Lacy No Stranger To Challenges
by Mike Conklin
April 28, 2013
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Eddie Lacy's name was linked to the Packers in countless mock drafts. The 230-pound bruiser from Alabama had left a strong impression after his stellar performance in the BCS National Championship game, and in many respects it made sense to choose him with the 26th overall pick. After all, he offered something the Packers haven't had consistently for a long time: the threat of a reliable, physical run game. Several highly respected national writers penciled in Lacy to the Packers for that very reason.
Even so, when the Packers chose Datone Jones over Eddie Lacy in the first round it was difficult to argue the logic of the selection. The defensive front needed to be fortified, especially when one considers that the Packers have no fewer than five players at that position entering their final contract year (B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, and Johnny Jolly), and a sixth player (Jerel Worthy) coming off a major knee injury. The defensive line was not only a need, it was a concern.
The Packers passed on Lacy in the first round, and at that point it seemed highly unlikely that they would have a chance to pick him up later. Although it remains unknown just how strongly Ted Thompson considered Lacy in the first round, at the time it seemed like an "either-or" proposition. They could either make the decision to bolster their run game and choose Lacy with their first round pick, or go in a different direction altogether. Lacy's stock seemed to be slightly dipping in the weeks leading up to the draft, but it still seemed inconceivable that Lacy would last past the middle of the second round. As the draft unfolded, that's exactly what happened.
News broke after the fact that Lacy may have fallen down the board due to injury concerns. According to a report that circulated after the draft, at least one team took Lacy off their draft board entirely because of a toe that had been surgically fused. That didn't deter the Packers, who seemed unconcerned with Lacy's injury history when they grabbed him with the 61st pick.
“He’s a big back. He really hasn’t missed any time," said Packers Director of College Scouting Brian Gutekunst when asked about Lacy's injury history. "I don’t think it was any concern."
If Lacy is indeed able to stay on the field, the Packers may have found a bargain late in the second round.
Coming off of a strong senior season during which he was able to rack up 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns while playing in college football's most grueling conference, Lacy looks like he should be able to fill the role of power back that the Packers have been sorely lacking. He enters the NFL following in the footsteps of the player he replaced as lead back at Alabama last season, Trent Richardson.
Twelve months ago, the Cleveland Browns traded away three draft picks just to move up one spot to select Richardson with the third overall pick. Lacking in weapons across the board in the passing game, the Browns offense wasn't instantly transformed by Richardson's presence alone. Even so, Richardson was able to score 11 touchdowns, rush for 950 yards, and catch 51 passes in a series of gritty performances.
Scouts will inevitably compare players at the same position that come from the same school. As a result, Eddie Lacy was often compared to Trent Richardson throughout the draft process. But considering Lacy ended up being selected 58 spots later than Richardson (albeit a different year), his talent may match up better than it may appear on the surface.
"I think this guy has a chance to be better than Trent Richardson," said former Cowboys personnel executive Gil Brandt on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "I know teams that had him ranked in the top 25 or 30 players. But to get a guy who averaged seven yards a carry at Alabama...the Southeastern Conference after three rounds has a round full of players drafted."
Brandt was referring to the fact that no fewer than 32 players from the SEC were selected in the draft's first three rounds. In fact, during this year's draft the SEC set the record for most players from one conference (63) to be selected. More SEC players were drafted than those of the next two conferences combined. Lacy was able to excel against some of the best players college football has to offer, which in theory should translate well to the pro game.
During our pre-draft coverage we interviewed Matt Waldman from the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. As someone who watched literally hundreds of hours of game film on these players, Waldman was able to offer informed opinions as we previewed several prospects. One of the players we talked about in-depth was Eddie Lacy. We asked if Waldman thought Lacy would be a good fit for the Packers if they chose him in the first round.
"I think Lacy would be a good fit for pretty much any team," Waldman said. "Lacy is one of those backs who has ability to work between the tackles, and he's a decent pass blocker who should develop into an even better one as he gets more skilled at diagnosing the correct type of angles and keep his feet moving after making that initial punch."
The blocking aspect of Lacy's game will play a crucial role in his success in Green Bay. Last year, John Kuhn said that the Packers have rules posted in the running back meeting room that outline the most important functions required from that position: Protect the football and protect the quarterback.
"And that's usually a toss-up as to which one is first," added running backs coach Alex Van Pelt.
Because protecting Green Bay's $110 million quarterback is such a priority, Lacy will be subjected to a crash course in NFL protection concepts and techniques. Like all rookies, he will have work to do in order to improve in pass protection, but it seems likely that he should be able to pick up this aspect of the game. He has the size, and he was most often described by scouts as a willing pass blocker.
Waldman went on to describe other areas of Lacy's game that could benefit the Packers.
"He's also an underrated receiver from the backfield," Waldman continued. "And he has enough speed that once he gets to the second level he can turn a five- or seven-yard gain into a 20- or 25-yard gain. So I think that he's someone that any team would feel pretty good about having acquired at that level."
Lacy has a chance to bring one other thing to the table that could make his career blossom: Desire. He wasn't happy with the fact that sixty picks came and went and his name wasn't called.
"It was a really long wait," Lacy said. "It's going to a big motivation piece I can use."
Lacy needs to look no further than his own backfield to find someone who has parlayed that motivation into becoming one of the best players in the league. Aaron Rodgers has a chip on his shoulder the size of a Lombardi Trophy, and will serve as a great example for Lacy to follow.
Lacy may not even need that extra motivation, however. He already has a chip on his shoulder of his own after his family lost everything several years ago.
ESPN's E:60 ran a feature about some of the challenges Lacy has already faced in his life. Hurricane Katrina cost Lacy's family their home, their jobs, and most of the things they owned. They were forced to move in with strangers they had never met until they ended up in their own trailer home. People called them refugees, and Lacy was constantly embarrassed of his living situation. He even got off the school bus at a different stop, just so people couldn't see where he lived.
Even though his parents tried to make the best of it and both had to find multiple jobs just to make ends meet, it was a grim existence for Lacy and his whole family. He put all of his focus and effort into football, seeing it as his best chance to remove himself from what he considered an untenable situation. He even put a sign on his wall reminding him of what he had to do every day to get out.
"I can get through anything, any obstacle, after what I've been through," said Lacy of that dark period.
He will need to channel that resolve once more to make an impact with the Packers. They drafted another talented running back, Johnathan Franklin, in the fourth round. While Lacy was the top running back of this year's class in the eyes of most scouts, there were a few that had Franklin rated higher. And DuJuan Harris isn't going to go quietly into the night either. Lacy has his work cut out for him.
For his part, he seems ready.
"There's still a lot I have to go out there and prove," Lacy said. "I can't wait until I can start on that."
Photo Credit: Associated Press