The Packers have now officially signed Cedric Benson, which not only fulfills their sudden need for a healthy back, but provides the team with an upgrade over the other current options on their roster.
Until very recently, it appeared that James Starks would be employed as Green Bay's feature back, especially after it became obvious that the Packers did not plan to include Ryan Grant on their 2012 roster. Both backs shared the workload in 2011, with Starks generating 578 yards on 133 carries (4.3 YPC), while Grant accumulated 559 yards on 134 attempts (4.2 YPC).
However, after garnering attention as a sleeper heading into the 2011 season, the fact that 35 other RBs exceeded Starks' final yardage total made his numbers disappointing for fantasy owners, as was the fact that he scored just one TD. Still, with Grant out of the picture this year, it seemed that Starks would be provided with an enormous opportunity to generate significantly higher numbers. His only genuine competition had previously been second year back Alex Green, who is still recovering from a torn ACL that he suffered last October, and can only handle a minimal amount of touches.
However, that unquestioned status was altered as reports increasingly surfaced that Starks was encountering difficulties in training camp, including struggles as a blocker and receiver. Then in Green Bay’s preseason opener, he dropped a pass from Aaron Rodgers, and also mishandled a handoff which led to a critical turnover. Then it was announced that Starks was also suffering from turf toe. As a result, the Packers pursued Benson and ultimately signed him.
CedBen finished 12th in rushing with 1,047 yards last season, which was the third consecutive year that he has surpassed 1,000 yards. However, there are multiple numbers that should scream caution to fantasy owners. He was allotted the seventh highest number of attempts (273) and considering the degree of opportunity that he was provided, you would prefer to see higher production. 38 RBs had a better YPC than his 3.9, and he only generated four runs of 20+. If that isn’t sobering enough for you, it is also alarming that he fumbled five times, which was the most among all RBs. And while he did surpass 100 yards in three different contests, one was assembled against Buffalo’s 28th ranked rush defense, while the other two occurred against Cleveland’s even less effective 30th ranked run stoppers.
Benson is certainly draftable, but don't go crazy and reach for him. And if he is available on the waiver wire in leagues that have completed their drafts, he is worth an addition to your roster. But remember that he is a 29-year old back, who has already logged over 1,500 career carries. Considering the collection of underwhelming numbers that were supplied in the previous paragraph, he should be considered at best a middle round pick, despite the fact that he is most likely going to become Green Bay’s primary back. You should not plan on utilizing him as anything beyond a No. 3 RB, since his disturbingly low YPC average will persist. Plus, he will hardly be a scoring machine, having produced over six TDs just once in seven seasons. And fantasy owners should also be aware that less than 17% of Green Bay’s TDs were generated on the ground in 2011. Only two teams passed more often near the goal line, and that should not change significantly this year.
As for Starks? There is no reason to select him at this point. He will eventually be available in free agency if your league has not completed its draft. But if you already selected him earlier this summer, with the thought that he would be Green Bay’s primary back, you can keep him for now if there are no enticing options on your waiver wire. While Benson will likely secure the No .1 slot, you can still monitor the situation closely. But only if you have the luxury of keeping Starks on your roster for the next week or two. Otherwise, cut your losses and grab a player that will actually benefit your team.