Alabama's Eddie Lacy was the fourth running back selected in the 2013 draft, just behind Wisconsin's Montee Ball. / File/Getty Images
Eddie Lacy at a glance
• Position: Running back.
• School: Alabama.
• Height, weight: 5-feet-11, 231 pounds.
• Highlights: Exploded onto the scene in his only season as a starter for the 2012 national champions. Started all 14 games last season but has a history of injuries. Was a first-team all-SEC coaches selection while running for a total of 1,322 rushing yards on 204 carries and scoring 17 touchdowns, eighth-most running yards in a season in Crimson Tide history. Averaged 6.48 yards per carry, a school record, and is known for pounding the ball. Caught 22 passes out of the backfield for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirted in 2009 and earned the third-string running back position in 2010 behind current NFL running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Recorded a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash while registering a 32½-inch vertical jump at his pro day. Also showed off his strength, benching 225 pounds 21 times. Was the MVP of the national championship game vs. Notre Dame, rushing for 140 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.
• Strengths: Very well put together. Outstanding girth, power and body strength. Very good instincts. Finishes runs with authority — barrels his shoulder and plows through tacklers. Spins off contact and maintains balance. Seldom is knocked backward or loses yardage. Churns hard through contact and breaks tackles. Good peripheral vision to see the cutback, stick his foot in the dirt and go. Very good feet for a big man. Physical blocker. Competes hard and got stronger late in the season. Versed in a pro style offense.
• Weaknesses: Only a one-year starter. Runs too upright in the hole and takes a pounding. Questionable work habits, focus and commitment to the game. Lacks elite burst to take the corner. Benefited heavily from an NFL-caliber offensive line that paved wide lanes. Rigid route runner. Inconsistent hands. Durability is a concern and could have a history of hamstring injuries.
• Noteworthy: A native of Geismar, La., out of Dutchtown High School, Lacy came to Alabama as the 13th-best running back according to Rivals.com and 24th-best according to Scout.com. He recorded 17 touchdowns on 1,046 rushing yards in 2008, his senior year, which was his third straight 1,000-yard season. His best prep season came in 2007 when he rushed for 1,800 and 27 touchdowns. ... He will wear No. 27 for the Packers. Lacy was informed Green Bay drafted him while flying out of New York City to Alabama to start training.
• Quotes: “The history at running back in the SEC is pretty good. Those guys tend to make it. He played at a very good program and was very, very well-coached and a very similar structure to what he’ll have here. So all those things play into it.”
— Brian Gutekunst, Packers director of college scouting
“I can pretty much be whatever the coach needs me to be. If I have to be an every-down back, I can be that. If he wants me to be something else, I can pretty much be whatever he wants me to be. ... Right now I’m 100 percent, so I’ll be able to have a lot of training under my belt. My conditioning is going to be right and from Day 1, I’m going to be ready to go.”
— Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers running back
— Steve Paulus, Press-Gazette Media correspondent
Going into this week’s NFL draft there was every reason to think Eddie Lacy would be the first running back selected, and plenty of NFL scouts tagged him as a player the Green Bay Packers would have to consider with the No. 26 pick in the first round.
But Lacy was still on the board when the second round started Friday evening, and as picks came and went he remained there while two and eventually three backs were drafted ahead of him. Some and perhaps many teams must have harbored concerns about Lacy’s durability, not because he missed games at Alabama but because of a string of ailments he played through plus a hamstring injury that sidelined him most of the offseason.
Lacy stayed on the board even after Packers general manager Ted Thompson traded back six spots in the second round, from No. 55 to 61. So that’s where Thompson pulled the trigger on the power-back in an attempt to address the greatest remaining need on the Packers’ roster.
“We feel pretty good about (Lacy’s durability),” Thompson said. “I think it could have been one of the reasons he wasn’t drafted earlier by other teams, but we felt pretty good about it. Between the lines he’s a go-getter.”
Thompson might have a reputation for sticking to his board more than drafting for need in the early rounds, but he must bake need into his draft-grade formula, because with his first two selections this year he’s taking players to fill his team’s most glaring shortcomings. On Thursday night it was the defensive line with UCLA end Datone Jones; Friday night it was running back and Lacy.
Lacy undoubtedly is the Packers’ starting halfback today. At 5-feet-11 and 231 pounds, he’s a power back for a team that plays its home games in a bad-weather climate and that hasn’t had much of a power game, or much of a running game at all for that matter, for years. Lacy had hammered out a career average of 6.8 yards a carry while sharing playing time with the best backfield in the country –Alabama had a running back drafted in the first round of each of the previous two drafts, Mark Ingram in 2011 and Trent Richardson last year.
“(Lacy) has got great lateral quickness,” said Brian Gutekunst, the Packers’ director of college scouting. “Great ability to drop his pads in the hole, very powerful guy. He has kind of an uncanny knack to get out of trouble for a guy his size. He’s a little bit different than we’ve had maybe in the past. He’s a really good player, he’s been a good player there the whole time even though he’s been behind some very good backs. I think he gives us a little bit of size we haven’t had for a while.”
Lacy was the Packers’ only pick Friday night because Thompson returned to trade-back mode this year after trading up three times in 2012. He made a series of deals Friday night that pushed the Packers out of the third round and left them with 10 picks Saturday: two fourth-rounders, three fifth-rounders, two sixth-rounders and three seventh-rounders.
The trading started when Thompson’s original second-round pick came up at No. 55 overall, with Lacy and Wisconsin’s highly regarded Montee Ball still on the board. Two running backs already had been selected, North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard at No. 37 to Cincinnati, and Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell at No. 48 to Pittsburgh.
If Thompson had chosen then he would have had to answer whether he liked Lacy or the touchdown-machine Ball better.
“We liked Montee Ball a lot,” Gutekunst said. “We kind of had them in the same range. We thought they were both very, very good backs. And I knew we traded down because we had a bunch of numbers up there.”
When Thompson finally exercised a pick in the second round, Ball was gone (to Denver at No. 58) and the board of available players included several at positions of moderate or more need for the Packers: defensive linemen Jesse Williams of Alabama and John Jenkins of Georgia; running back Johnathan Franklin of UCLA; safeties T.J. McDonald of USC and Phillip Thomas of Fresno State; tackle Terron Armstead of Arkansas-Pine Bluff; and Kentucky interior offensive lineman Larry Warford.
But rather than doubling up on the defensive line with Williams after selecting Jones in the first round, or taking a talented but developmental prospect at a thin tackle position with Armstead, Thompson went for Lacy. Last year, the Packers finished No. 20 in the NFL in rushing yards per game, No. 22 in yards per rush, and were unable to run the ball well enough to pull defenses out of the predominant two-deep safety shells they saw all year.
Coach Mike McCarthy will be looking for Lacy to provide him with the team’s best running threat in years after Lacy finished his college career with an average of 6.8 yards on 355 carries (2,402 yards).
Lacy’s relatively low carry numbers in three seasons at Alabama – he’s entering the NFL as a redshirt junior – is a function of playing behind both Ingram and Richardson as a redshirt freshman in 2010, then splitting time with Ingram in ’11 and talented freshman T.J. Yeldon last year. Lacy missed only one game the past two seasons but had a turf toe injury that slowed him the second half of ’11 and required surgery in the offseason; knee and pectoral injuries that slowed him last season; and a strained hamstring sustained while training for the NFL scouting combine that sidelined him for most of the offseason.
The hamstring injury prevented Lacy from working out for scouts until April 11, when he ran a sluggish 40 (ranging from 4.57 seconds to 4.62 seconds, depending on the report). He also tired quickly and ended the workout early – he said he wasn’t in good enough shape because he’d only been back training for two weeks. But in his phone interview with reporters in Green Bay on Friday night, he said he’s now at full strength for working out.
“He’s a big back,” Gutekenst said. “He really hasn’t missed any time, he’s played through whatever he’s had, so I don’t think (durability) is going to be a concern.”
Some teams might have questioned how much Lacy’s production was a function of Alabama’s outstanding offensive line – guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker were first-round picks Thursday night, and center Barrett Jones will be selected sometime in today’s final four rounds, more likely sooner than later.
But Gutekunst lauded Lacy for his ability to pick up yards after contact, and Thompson mentioned Lacy’s effective spin move.
“You watch (game video) and kind of take the different situations he’s been put in and watch those,” Gutekunst said. “They did have a very, very good offensive line at Alabama, very good players. But he averaged 6-point-something yards in the SEC his whole career, he’s a good back. We’re really excited to have him.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.