Why Third String Running Backs Don't Matter
Throughout the offseason and training camp (and even back to late last season), a narrative has steadily emerged: John Crockett is doing good things for the Packers.
I agree with this narrative. John Crockett is doing fine things for the Packers. His effort against the Raiders was very good and he’ll look to duplicate that tonight against the 49ers. He’s inarguably doing some of the best things we’ve seen from a third string running back in a long time.
He’s also getting some decent competition this year in the form of Brandon Burks, a fine running back in his own right who comes to the Packers after leading the entire Big Ten in rushing average last year.
But it’s here where I diverge from the presupposition behind this narrative. While the well-intentioned sports writers behind columns like this and this and this seem to think the battle for the Packers’ third string running back is worth following, I do not. Third string running backs simply do not matter to the Packers.
Dating back to 2010, third string running backs have been barely a footnote when it comes to the Packers’ rushing efforts. Over the past six seasons, the third string running back considered third on the depth chart has contributed a paltry 513 total rushing yards, or just over 85 yards per season.
Most of that total came from DuJuan Harris in 2012, a season fairly characterized as a running back disaster for the Packers. That year, Alex Green was the de facto number one running back, gifted the top job after Cedric Benson’s short-lived stint in Green Bay.
Essentially, the battle for the third string running back job is a competition for about 4.7% of the Packers’ rushing offense this season.
It’s possible to view the third string running back as a developmental prospect, but I struggle with that idea as well. In the same 2010 to 2015 time frame, only James Starks has ascended from third string to become a regular contributor. DuJuan Harris arguably had the same opportunity, but injuries and Eddie Lacy saw to the end of that.
I understand the need to try to extract some significance from preseason games, but I don’t think we should look to third string running backs for that significance.