Former Green Bay Packers running back James Starks will visit the Steel City on Monday to discuss the opportunity to back up Le'Veon Bell for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh has no proven running backs behind Le'Veon Bell - who set a franchise rookie record for total yards from scrimmage in 13 games last year. He rushed for 860 yards and 399 receiving yards and will become the focal point of the Steelers offense in 2014.
Starks played behind rookie Eddie Lacy in Green Bay in 2013, but still had a very good season as a role player. He rushed for 493 yards on 89 carries (5.5 yards per carry) and scored three touchdowns, as the Packers won the NFC North despite missing injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers for six games. He became expendable because the Packers no longer use a 2-back system.
Starks has played well in his four seasons with the Packers and will not cost much in free agency. At 28 years of age, he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his frame and has the physical traits to remain durable. LaRod Stephens-Howling is coming off an ACL injury and most likely will not be 100% and Felix Jones is not an every down back and lacks the size of Starks. Also, Jonathan Dwyer signed with the Arizona Cardinals last week. Starks has a similar build to Le’Veon Bell, but not as proficient in the pass-receiving area.
James Starks is a proven running back on a Green Bay team that didn’t utilize or lean on the running game too often. He was a sixth-round pick in 2010 and was the Packers leading rusher (11 carries for 52 yards) in the Super Bowl win that year. He had a monstrous post season with an impressive 81 carries for 350 yards. That’s a lot of pressure for a rookie. Starks only carried the ball 21 times in 13 games during the regular season before becoming the team's main running back in the Packers playoff run. The Steelers are committed to run the ball as they did in the glory days. Starks's career numbers are good. He has 1,427 yards on 322 carries since entering the league.
Because the running back position is a high injury-risk position, it’s not highly valued in free agency. Look at Houston's Ben Tate, another backup, who performed well when given an opportunity and signed a 2-year, $7 million deal with the Cleveland Browns on Saturday. That’s a moderate amount of money in free agency. Cleveland has a similar situation as the Steelers where there is running back depth. Starks will be offered around the league minimum and he could possibly end up receiving a lot of playing time given the injury history of running backs in the NFL and the amount of touches Le'Veon Bell projects to have next season.
James Starks would be a very solid #2. He’s a good north-south runner and has the speed to beat defenders to the sideline as well as run hard between the tackles. He has a career 5.5 yards per carry, which I believe is a very underrated stat. That’s a pretty good indicator for a running back’s performance. The key to success for James Starks is staying healthy because, when healthy, he is a very capable back who provides versatility and experience to a team. The Steelers obviously need to make sure he has a clean bill of health coming off of surgery before signing him. He would be a good choice for the black and gold. He has plenty of skills, great motor, and doesn’t take plays off. He can play right away and doesn’t have a learning curve. From what I hear, he always has a smile on his face.
I think the Steelers are serious about signing James Starks and Pittsburgh will like what they see if they have a chance to sign him.
UPDATED 3/16: Steelers to meet with ex-Saint and free agent WR Lance Moore on Tuesday as a contingency plan for Steelers WR Jerricho Cotchery visiting with the Carolina Panthers. Moore had a very productive 2012 season with Saints, but was injured most of the 2013 season. Moore is an excellent possession receiver and a veteran, like Cotchery, and would serve a similar role for the Steelers...to be continued