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Free-agent countdown: No. 9 James Starks

Feb. 13, 2014
 
Green Bay Packers running back James Starks, right. File/Press-Gazette Media
Green Bay Packers running back James Starks, right. File/Press-Gazette Media

2014 free-agent countdown

20. Chris Banjo, safety
19. Seneca Wallace, quarterback
18. Kahlil Bell, running back
17. Robert Francois, inside linebacker
16. Marshall Newhouse, offensive lineman
15. C.J. Wilson, defensive lineman
14. M.D. Jennings, safety
13. Jamari Lattimore, inside linebacker
12. Johnny Jolly, defensive line
11. Matt Flynn, quarterback
10. Andrew Quarless, tight end
9. James Starks, running back

More

Eddie Lacy may have been the answer to the Green Bay Bay Packers’ problems running the ball, but James Starks was also a part of the equation.

Coming off an injury-ravaged 2012 season, the 27-year-old running back finally started looking like his old self as Lacy’s understudy.

The fourth-year running back didn’t completely avoid injury – he partially tore the medial collateral ligament in a knee and missed three games – but he came back strong when he returned in late October.

Starks was more explosive out of the backfield and decisive in his cuts en route to racking up 493 rushing yards. His averaged his fewest carries per game (6.4), but finished with a career-high 5.5 yards per carry.

Starks still wants to be a starting running back – a role he was being groomed for coming into training camp in 2012 before developing turf toe – but was comfortable with his place in the Packers’ plans.

His coaches felt likewise. A bubble guy coming out of training camp, he developed into the perfect complement for Lacy after first-year running back DuJuan Harris was lost for the season with a patella injury.

“I thought James had his best year,” said Packers assistant Alex Van Pelt, who coached running backs last season. “I was very impressed with his running style. He hit the hole hard and fast. Where Eddie is a little bigger, slower going through the hole, James was a nice change-up because he was through the hole and into the second level before guys had time to react. I think that was crucial to his success this year.”

The Packers have three running backs under contract for next season – Lacy, Harris and fourth-round pick Jonathan Franklin – so the price will have to be right for Starks to return.

Rotoworld has Starks ranked as the 10th-best running back on the market this offseason and prospective suitors likely will be mindful of the series of injuries he’s had in recent years, which have ranged from shoulder, ankle, toe and knee ailments.

Starks is coming off a four-year rookie contract that paid him $634,550 this past season. Given his age and the nature of the position, now is the time to make hay. The only question is whether it’ll happen with the Packers.

“The durability, he missed some games early in the season, but he fought through that and came back earlier than expected,” Van Pelt said. “I was really proud of the way he played.”

Editor's note: Prior to the start of the new league year in March, Press-Gazette Media is counting down the top 20 unrestricted, restricted and exclusive right free agents the Green Bay Packers will have to decide on this offseason.

No. 9 James Starks, fourth-year running back

The skinny: Unrestricted free agent.

The snaps: 231 total (220 offense, 11 special teams).

The stats: 89 carries for 493 yards and three touchdowns (13 games).

The 2013 salary: $634,550.

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