August 17, 2011
Yeah, OK. This Ryan Grant(notes) vs. James Starks(notes) thing has been a dud of a position battle so far, but that doesn't mean we can simply ignore it. Dorsey Levens ain't walkin' through that door.
Grant appears to be healthy at the moment, 11 months removed from ankle surgery. He gained 18 yards on four touches in Green Bay's preseason opener, while Starks carried twice for 14 yards. Both players worked with the first-team. You'd probably call that a push, were it not for the fact that Starks tweaked an ankle in the game and hasn't practiced this week.
Earlier in camp, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy had indicated that Grant and Starks might share carries this season...
When asked Saturday night if he hopes to use a tandem backfield, McCarthy replied: "I hope so. It's a long season, 16 games, carrying the ball 20 to 25 times a game, that's a lot for one individual to go through. I hope to be spreading the ball around at every position, that's my goal."
Everyone no doubt recalls the excellent four-game performance by Starks in the playoffs, from Wild Card to Super Bowl, when he carried 81 times for 315 yards and one TD. (If the stats don't seem overly impressive, note that the final two games were against the NFL's best run defenses, Chicago and Pittsburgh). He reportedly altered his diet in the off-season, adding bulk in preparation for a significant role. But it's not like Grant was an unproductive back prior to the injury in 2010; he gave the fantasy community two-and-a-half solid years, topping the 1,200-yard mark twice. Grant finished as the No. 8 scorer at his position in '09.
Both of these players have actually been bargains in early Yahoo! drafts, as Grant's ADP is 90.9, while Starks' is 116.8.* It's tough to argue that Grant doesn't have the safer fantasy floor, assuming good health. It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which he doesn't receive at least 10-12 carries per game — and if he's rolling early, then he's looking at significantly more. With Starks, there's a wider range of possible outcomes. He's a handcuff with benefits, a guy who belongs in a special pre-draft circle of fantasy hell tier with Rashad Jennings(notes), Ricky Williams(notes), Ronnie Brown(notes), et al.
*There's a much wider ADP split at Mock Draft Central, where Grant checks in at 54.5. He actually hasn't been taken later than Pick No. 87 in any recent MDC draft. Starks is selected in the same neighborhood that we see in Yahoo! leagues (113.0). I think you're seeing the impact of autopick logic in our ADP numbers. In a competitive live draft, it's reasonable to expect Grant to go off the board in the 50-60 range.
John Kuhn(notes) is going to see plenty of action on passing downs — not because Starks can't catch, but for protection/blitz pick-up reasons — and rookie third-rounder Alex Green(notes) lurks on the depth chart, too. Green doesn't project to have a significant early-season role in the ground game, though you'll want to know the name for dynasty purposes. (His numbers at Hawaii were crazy last year, but individual stats from that offense cannot be trusted. If they could, then Davone Bess(notes) would be Marvin Harrison(notes)).
Bottom line: Grant looks like a particularly nice value play at the moment. He's tied to an elite offense, yet there's a decent discount here, related to workload uncertainty. We know he can deliver RB1-level performance because he's done it recently. There's not much risk associated with Starks at his current price, either. Call him a handcuff, call him a sleeper, or call him free cheese. The term isn't important. Nice player, great offense.
If you're a Vick-in-the-first-round/Megatron-in-the-second sort of fantasy owner, then this is the sort of running game you'll need to target. Get a collection of Ingrams and Grants, Beanies and Felixes.
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