Aaron Nagler speaks with Michael Cohen about the running back position heading into the 2018 NFL draft USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Second in a 10-part NFL draft position-preview series looking at prospects who might be of interest to the Packers. Today: Running backs.
Assuming Ty Montgomery’s wrist healed well from surgery — and there’s no reason to believe it didn’t — the Packers have very little need for additional running backs. In fact, it can be argued there is no position with more competition entering the 2018 season. The flashes from Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, in particular, bode well for the Packers, who haven’t come close to fielding a 1,000-yard rusher since 2014, the last good year of Eddie Lacy’s career in Green Bay. And Devante Mays shouldn’t be counted out, either. With the build of a wrecking ball and plenty of natural athleticism, it’s possible Mays works his way into the rotation after a disastrous rookie season. The competition will continue through training camp. Priority level: Low.
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A brief overview of where the Packers stand at the running back position heading into the 2018 draft USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
KALEN BALLAGE, ARIZONA STATE
6-1½, 228 pounds
The good: Ballage is built like a hybrid safety/linebacker with plenty of experience around the goal line. Despite his size, Ballage ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at the NFL scouting combine and 4.44 seconds at his pro day. Demonstrated ability as a pass catcher with 44 receptions for 469 yards as a junior, his best season.
The bad: Ballage started just 17 of 47 career games at Arizona State, serving mostly as a goal-line and third-down back. Average of 4.4 yards per carry is low for the college level. He fumbled once every 66.5 touches and played softer than expected given his sturdy build.
Projected round: 4-5.
PHILLIP LINDSAY, COLORADO
5-7¼, 184 pounds
The good: Lindsay offsets his diminutive frame with terrific speed (4.39 seconds at his pro day) and quick feet. Well-respected player who served as team captain for three seasons in college. Graduated with dual degrees in communications and sociology. Caught 76 passes over the last two seasons and averaged 9.3 yards per catch out of the backfield.
The bad: Durability will be a major concern given his size. Lindsay played 25 games over his final two seasons, but the physical demands are different at the NFL level. Pass protection could be difficult at the next level. He will turn 24 before the start of his rookie season.
Projected round: 6.
JUSTIN JACKSON, NORTHWESTERN
5-11⅝, 199 pounds
The good: Unbelievably productive in college with four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, becoming one of six players in FBS history to achieve that milestone. Never missed a game at Northwestern and started all 13 each of the last three years. Caught 122 passes in his career and fumbled once every 180.6 touches.
The bad: Jackson is undersized for the position and lacks an elite trait. He isn’t overly fast (4.50 seconds) or strong (13 reps on the bench at the combine) or quick (1.57 seconds in the 10-yard split) and averaged under 5.0 yards per carry for his career. Jack of all trades, master of none.
Projected round: 6-7.
Best and bust
The Packers’ best choice at running back since Ron Wolf took over as general manager is probably Edgar Bennett, a fourth-round selection in 1992. Bennett rushed for 3,353 yards and 19 touchdowns in five seasons while also catching 242 passes for 1,920 yards and 10 more scores. During his four most productive seasons, from 1993-96, Bennett averaged 785 rushing yards, 458 receiving yards and seven scores per year. The Packers’ worst choice at running back during that time is LeShon Johnson, a third-round pick from Northern Illinois in 1994. Johnson played 14 total games for the Packers over two seasons and carried 28 times for 97 yards. He never scored a touchdown in Green Bay.