Each Tuesday of the NFL season NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang will identify his Rookie of the Week. To qualify, the first-year professional player must have played a significant role in a competitive NFL game, demonstrating not just flashes of talent but the potential to emerge as a legitimate long-term standout. The player's draft status - whether as a former first round pick or undrafted free agent - does not apply.
NFL Rookie of Week 5: Green Bay Packers' RB Eddie Lacy
Some believe that when it comes to the NFL the so-called bell-cow running back is destined to follow the dinosaurs as an extinct species.
There is no question that the running back-by-committee approach is gaining popularity in the NFL. Most teams are finding it increasingly difficult to justify building their offense around one running back, especially given the durability issues that are a natural by-product of absorbing so much punishment.
Even teams with an established superstars at the position are finding roles for so-called third down backs or goal-line specialists. Running backs in the NFL are increasingly becoming more specialized, just as relief pitchers in baseball are now often separated into categories of long-relievers, set-up men and closers.
To mix my sports analogies, it is in this "closer" role that Lacy starred in Green Bay's critical divisional win against a physical and aggressive Detroit defense on Sunday.
The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Lacy rumbed for 99 yards on 23 carries in Green Bay's 22-9 victory at Lambeau Field. What was perhaps most impressive about Lacy's carries was the consistency with which he ran. While Lacy wasn't dynamic (his longest run went for 13 yards), he was reliable, consistently churning out the tough yardage to help Green Bay keep the clocking winding down. He attacked line of scrimmage, ran through arm tackles and fell forward, showing a toughness that Green Bay hasn't seen at running back since the days of Ahman Green. Lacy also caught two passes out of the backfield, stepped up in pass protection against Detroit's fearsome pass rush and recovered an Aaron Rodgers' fumble midway through the fourth quarter that threatened to unravel this game.
Lacy was considered a potential first round prospect before questions about his health and speed clouded his status as the draft approached. Some teams' medical staffs, in fact, failed the former Alabama star.
Green Bay, itself, showed their concern with Lacy's durability by doubling up on the position in the 2013 with UCLA's career rushing leader Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round. With Franklin losing a fumble earlier in the game (his second game in a row), however, the pressure was on Lacy to respond in this contest.
Clearly, the Packers' offense revolves around perennial MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers and the passing attack. Just as clearly, the Packers were likely to win this game with Detroit forced to play without their own superstar, wideout Calvin Johnson, who missed the game with a left knee injury.
The difference in this game, however, was Lacy. For Green Bay to re-emerge as a legitimate Super Bowl contender they needed a more reliable running game. In this contest, at least, Lacy provided it, narrowly beating out fellow second round "faller" Geno Smith, whose steady play helped the Jets upset the Falcons on Monday Night Football and nearly earned the quarterback his second Rookie of the Week recognition over the past three games.
Lacy and the Packers travel to Baltimore in Week Six to play yet another highly physical defense. Should Lacy emerge as the lead back the Packers were hoping he'd become when they made him the No. 61 overall pick of the 2013 draft, he could be the the first-year player holding up the Rookie of the Year hardware at the end of the season.
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