Okay, you can call me out on writing the second article in a row with James Starks in the headline. You can especially rag on me for mentioning him as a dark horse sleeper candidate last week! But I think Starks is going to be one of the hottest topics heading into the 2011 fantasy season, so it's worth discussing him again. That being said, here is a breakdown on how I think he'll impact next season, along with a precursor leading up to this analysis.
Missing in Action
The first thing worth nothing about Starks is that we don't have a whole lot to go on in regards to determining if he'll be a fantasy star next season. Starks was nonexistent during the first 12 weeks of the regular season because, well, he never got on the field.
In fact, I really didn't know what all of the fuss was about with this 6th round pick out of Buffalo U. Sure he had a nice first three years at Buffalo with over 3,100 yards and 38 touchdowns, but he also missed his senior year with a shoulder injury. So how was an injury-riddled running back from Buffalo worthy any consideration in the NFL?
Still, the Packers front office raved about Starks when the season opened, and some predicted that he would eventually take over the starting job when Ryan Grant went down with a season-ending injury. Of course, that didn't happen until Week 13, when Starks finally hit the field running with 73 yards on 18 carries. Unfortunately, Starks was knocked out of the next game, and he stayed sidelined until week 17, when he rushed for 20 yards on 5 carries.
Nobody could have predicted Starks' breakout postseason as he started things off with a bang by running for 123 yards on 22 carries against the Philadelphia Eagles. The next game against the Falcons wasn't as big of a success as he only gained 66 yards on 25 carries against a tough run defense; however, Starks came back strong against an even better run defense in the Bears when he gained 74 yards on 22 carries, and scored a touchdown. Did I mention this was all on the road?
Starks' final performance of the postseason came in Super Bowl XLV when he rushed for 52 yards on just 11 carries. I wasn't expecting much from Starks since Pittsburgh's run defense was one of the most dominant in NFL history. But I was pleasantly surprised when he averaged over 5 yards a carry, and gained some tough yardage on a few plays. Sure he benefited quite a bit from an incredible performance by Aaron Rodgers that kept the Steelers' defense off-guard, but he still came through as a rookie on football's biggest stage. So what does all of this mean for next season?
James Starks' 2011 Outlook
Right now, Starks has one thing standing between him and a breakout season next year: Ryan Grant. Grant is said to be around 100%, and he was seen running drills at the Super Bowl; the only reason he didn't play was because the Packers didn't keep him on the playoff roster.
Of course, many are expecting a trade since he's due between $3.5 million and $5.25 million next season - money you don't want to pay in the wake of Starks' breakout performance. Plus Starks is only earning $1.89 million over four years, so money is definitely an issue here.
Let's just assume that Grant is gone, and Starks does take over the starting running back duties. According to what we saw last year with the Brandon Jackson/John Kuhn debacle, Starks would undoubtedly be the man in the Green Bay backfield. And it's safe to say that you could expect at least 1,200 yards and 7-8 touchdowns from the playoffs' leading rusher.
However, you've also got to worry about the injury issues with Starks too. He already missed the first 12 weeks of the season, then he gets hurt after playing just one and a half games. It doesn't help matters that he also missed his senior year of college football.
In the end, I think we're looking at a guy who could be a breakout performer if he's healthy all season. On the other hand, he could be another Jerome Harrison and burn fantasy owners. At this point, I think Starks is worth a 5th-6th round fantasy choice (8-10 man league) for next season. Of course, we'll have to see how the Ryan Grant situation shakes out before making that decision.