2017 Packers Previews: RBs both new and improved

In 2012, the Packers had nobody to run the ball.

2010 playoff hero James Starks was banged up to start the season and 2011 draft pick Alex Green was still recovering from surgery after a knee injury the year prior. Though he was practicing, he was far from peak form.

As a result, the Packers turned to undrafted free agent Marc Tyler to soak up their preseason carries. It was immediately apparent that Tyler didn’t belong on an NFL roster, but with Cedric Benson still getting into game shape after joining the Packers late in training camp, Tyler was really the only option, carrying 45 times for 105 yards over for preseason games.

He never played another NFL snap.

The Packers will have no such problems this year. Ty Montgomery is now a running back and a running back only, and he’s joined in the backfield by three 2017 draft picks. Add promising undrafted free agents William Stanback and Khalif Phillips, and it’s hard to imagine the Packers being in any sort of situation resembling the 2012 disaster any time soon.

Veteran to watch: Ty Montgomery

Outside of Aaron Ripkowski and Joe Kerridge, Montgomery is the only non-rookie ballcarrier on the roster and more or less becomes the veteran to watch by default.

Montgomery’s transition from wide receiver to running back last season was well documented, and even though he’s doing and saying all the right things so far, we still have precious little to go on as far as evaluating him as a running back and quite a few questions as far as his prospects moving forward.

Will he stay healthy for a whole season? Can he pass block consistently? How big of a role does being the starting running back actually get you with the 2017 Packers? Only time will tell.

Notable newcomer: Aaron Jones

Though Jamaal Williams has the distinction of being the first running back drafted by the Packers this spring, Jones may be the most exciting prospect. Well built with blistering speed, Jones does everything the Packers need from their running backs, and he does it well. He particularly excels in the passing game, which could be his ticket to early playing time.

Biggest question: Can anybody protect Aaron Rodgers?

All of the running backs on the roster right now can run. That’s not going to be a problem. But running the ball is not the main goal of the Packers’ offense. Aaron Rodgers is the real focus of the offensive strategy, and if any back, rookie or otherwise, can’t protect Rodgers while he’s trying to do his thing, there’s going to be a quick trip to the bench in their future.

Key Number: 41.2%

Aaron Ripkowski may be something of a forgotten man among the Packers’ backs, but he can do two very important things consistently: pass protect and grind out yards. Though he’ll never be confused for a big play back, 41.2% of his runs in 2016 went for five or more yards, by far the highest percentage of any back with 10 or more carries last year.