Cheeseheads around the world went through a very yin and yang experience against the Chicago Bears in Week 9. On one hand, their worst fear came to fruition when Aaron Rodgers emerged from the Lambeau Field locker room midway through the third quarter donning sweats. On the other hand, Eddie Lacy treated them to a bullish display of power running they haven’t seen in years.
Winter without Rodgers is coming, but all hope is not lost in the frozen tundra of the NFC North. Just seven games into his career, Eddie Lacy has emerged as a bruising workhorse who puts the team—and opponents—on his back.
Mark it down: Eddie Lacy will be the best running back in the NFL by the start of the 2016-17 season, his fourth.
With Mr. Discount Double-Check watching from the sidelines and the Bears repeatedly stacking extra defenders in the box on Monday, Lacy still racked up 130 yards on 19 carries, causing a whopping nine missed tackles for a season-high 97 yards after contact in the process. If Marshawn Lynch is Beast Mode, then Eddie Lacy is Beast Mode, Jr.
The Alabama product is making his mark on what has become a quarterback’s league. Since his return from a concussion in Week 5, Lacy leads all running backs with 545 rushing yards—Zac Stacy sits 74 yards behind in a distant second place. His five consecutive 20-carry games also lead the league, while his 85.1 yards per contest is fourth best behind Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris.
The implications of Lacy’s development are significant for a Green Bay offense that hasn’t cracked even the top ten in any rushing categories since the Aaron Rodgers era began—save for 20 touchdowns in 2009. With a perennial top-five runner lining up behind a perennial top-three quarterback, Lambeau leaps will be in great abundance for years to come.
But Lacy won’t be just a top-five guy in the NFL. He will be THE guy, and here’s why.
Look at the consensus five best backs–Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy—and how they stack up to Lacy. All are deeply entrenched in or reaching their prime.
Note: Data includes college
Before the start of the 2013 season, Michael Salfino of Yahoo Sports dove into the question of running back mileage and what happens to backs as they pass their prime. Since 1993, only Tiki Barber, Curtis Martin and Thomas Jones improved their yards per carry after turning both 29 and 30. Barber was the only back to improve in yards per game as well. Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Jerome Bettis—current and future hall-of-famers—all went downhill.
Why is this significant? All of the aforementioned backs will be past the magic age of 28 in Lacy’s fourth year aside from McCoy, who will be 28 and in his eighth year as a load-bearer in the NFL. But each will have logged 10 years worth of carries including college. Lacy should be somewhere around Jamaal Charles’ current total with plenty of legs to spare.
It is more probable that Lacy will be battling the likes of Alfred Morris, Doug Martin and Gio Bernard for handoff supremacy. Measured against the next crop of under-25 studs, he has the advantage of carrying less mileage from college after spending just one year as top dog at Alabama.
Lacy’s north-south running style and limited use in the passing game should keep him healthier over the course of his career than the shifty Gio Bernard. Doug Martin (torn labrum) and Le’Veon Bell (sprained foot) already have suffered serious injuries causing them to miss multiple games. Barring a significant turnaround, Trent Richardson has already proved to be slow and ineffective, and Stevan Ridley is unlikely to get a feature workload if he stays in the New England offensive scheme.
Health aside, none of the backs on the above list fell into a better situation than Lacy. Using ESPN Insider’s Future Power Rankings (subscription) from the off-season as a tape measure, Green Bay has a brighter ‘tomorrow’ (second only to the 49ers) than the rest of the teams featuring a player on the list. New England (5th) comes close, as do St. Louis and Indianapolis (tied for 8th). You can make the case that Bernard is on the most talented team looking forward, but Andy Dalton’s limited ceiling will affect his development.
Lacy showed what he can do without Aaron Rodgers and with extra defenders at the line, but with Rodgers and a fully healthy receiving corps down the road he will have extra room to run. And despite having arguably the best passer in the league, Mike McCarthy is calling a balanced 53/47 pass-run split—down from 57/43 in 2012—showing Lacy’s effect on the flow of the game.
Lacy doesn’t like to go down without a fight when he gets the ball. The ability to shed blockers like snakeskin took Peterson and Lynch to All-Pro status, and Lacy might be even better at it. Through nine weeks, only Morris has fewer carries for two or less yards than Lacy.
|Player||Carries 2 Yards or Less||Percentage of Carries|
Note: Carries exclude touchdowns
Just a touch over three-fifths of Lacy’s carries have come on first down, meaning Green Bay rarely faces worse than second-and-seven when starting a new set of downs with a handoff.
All of the backs on the under-25 list will hold down starting gigs for years to come, and some may be perennial first round fantasy draft choices, but Lacy has the right mix of strength, vision, surrounding talent and little mileage so far in his young football career to take over Adrian Peterson’s role as the most feared tailback in the NFL.
~ Micky Shaked, Sidelines Analyst