COMMENTARY | James Starks is only in his fourth year with the Green Bay Packers as well as in the NFL, but not many have endured a road as jarring as the 27-year-old tailback in such a short period of time.
Out of a possible 53 regular season games that Starks could have played, he has only seen action in 25. He will make it 25-of-54 this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.
That's because back in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Starks suffered a knee injury -- he's been there before. It's that bum knee that will now keep Starks out back-to-back weeks, but he's progressing and appears to be on track to return soon.
The only problem is that Starks will inevitably face an uphill battle if he wants to return to No. 1 on Green Bay's running back depth chart. It was Starks himself who benefited from a concussion to rookie tailback Eddie Lacy in Week 2, and Starks went on to rush 20 times for 132 yards and a touchdown in a 38-20 victory over the Washington Redskins.
It was the first Packers' running back to top the century mark since, well, James Starks.
That performance came during Green Bay's mystic Super Bowl run when in the first round of the 2010 playoffs, Starks rushed 23 times for 123 yards. That season, which also happened to be his rookie year, Starks participated in more postseason games than regular season games.
You can probably guess why -- injury.
Then again, injury is the exact reason why Starks became a Packer in the first place. After missing his senior season at Buffalo with a shoulder injury, Starks plummeted in the 2010 NFL Draft and was snatched up by Green Bay in the sixth round with the hope that it was a fluke injury more than anything.
It was a risk worth taking. Starks was healthy through his first three years of college and put up impressive numbers, topping 1,100 rushing yards in his sophomore and junior seasons. With another solid season under his belt, Starks was set to become one of the first tailbacks off the board.
If it weren't for Starks' performance at the end of the 2010 season, we're likely still waiting for the Packers to win their first Super Bowl since 1997. For that alone, the risk of drafting Starks has paid off for Green Bay.
In reality, the shoulder injury was indeed an anomaly. Instead, it's been Starks' lower body giving him fits over the past three seasons that have prevented him from grabbing the Packers' starting running back job by the horns.
When you look at the success Green Bay has had running the football in 2013, Starks was the one who jumpstarted that success. A lot of credit has gone to the offensive line, and rightfully so, and in just four games, Starks, Lacy and Johnathan Franklin have all had career-best outputs.
But you also have to consider some of the flaws Lacy and Franklin present.
Franklin has had obvious struggles with ball security, and an early fumble in Week 5 against the Detroit Lions was the reason why he was limited to just three carries. Lacy has also fumbled this season, and while he did rack up 99 yards against the Lions, it took him 23 carries to do so.
That's still a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, but on the season, Lacy is averaging 3.9 yards per carry compared to Starks' 5.5, and Starks has 37 more yards on four less carries. It could certainly have something to do with the level of competition, but Starks has been more impressive in roughly the same amount of action.
The argument could be made that the Packers would rather look toward the future than turn back to Starks and accept the growing pains that come with it. But this is only Starks' fourth year in the NFL. When healthy, he's the most talented player Green Bay has to offer in the backfield.
It's just the "when healthy" part that tends to get in the way with Starks, but it shouldn't matter.
Not that he's stellar in this area, but Starks (aside from John Kuhn) is the better pass blocker, and considering Franklin's noticeable struggles in this area along with his ball security issues, it wouldn't be difficult for Starks to instantly vault Franklin in the depth chart.
It will come down to Lacy or Starks when the former sixth-round pick is ready to return, which is hopefully sooner rather than later. But considering what Starks has shown in comparison this season, he deserves to get the call.
Dave Radcliffe is a resident of a little known Milwaukee suburb who is an avid follower of Wisconsin sports. He has contributed to JSOnline, as a featured columnist on other sites and publications, and been a guest on multiple sports talk radio shows.
You can get the discussion going and follow Dave on Twitter @DaveRadcliffe_ .
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- James Starks
- Green Bay Packers
- Green Bay