July 29, 2011

When Ryan Grant was carted off the field in Week 1 last season, most believed the Packers playoff hopes crumbled with his right ankle. The team was considered thin at the position, and Brandon Jackson failed to rise to the challenge. But by the end of the year, rookie James Starks emerged and offered the offense some much needed balance.

Now Grant is healthy and ready to battle Starks for his old job. Some believe the team will rotate the two, but such an approach is not consistent with how Mike McCarthy manages his team. It's more likely the Packers coach will stick with one horse on first and second down, using the other backs on the roster to fill various needs in the offense.

Why Grant is the best choice: He's the only proven back on the roster. Before 2010, Grant had gained 3,412 yards in three seasons with the Packers. He was a solid No. 2 back for fantasy owners, and last summer was selected as a fringe No. 1 in many drafts. The ankle is a concern, but Grant is still just 28 years old, with a handful of productive years ahead of him if he returns to camp healthy. And consider that in '09, he had three games of 125 or more rushing yards; last season no Packers back reached that mark. Another reason Grant will see the starting lineup -- his $5.25 million contract. If McCarthy does go with a featured back, how could he sit Grant and play Starks?

Why it's Starks: It's a matter of age and health. At 25, Starks is only starting to tap into his potential. The '10 sixth round pick didn't see much action until December, when he gained 73 yards on 18 carries against San Francisco. In the playoffs he logged three games of 20-plus carries and racked up 315 rushing yards. Starks had found his form by the time Green Bay reached the Super Bowl, so it's a shame his first season only offered 115 touches (regular and postseason combined). Fantasy owners would like to see what else he can do, and the Packers should feel the same.

Don't forget about: Alex Green. Most expect the team's '11 third-round pick will replace Jackson (now with Cleveland) as a third-down back, but as Green showed at Hawaii, he can handle a full-time workload, too. Last year he gained 1,199 yards and found the end zone 19 times. More impressive: He averaged 8.2 yards per carry.

Who fantasy owners should pull for: Grant

Starks offers a little more upside, but Grant is the safer option. A few weeks ago he hinted he'd already been given the job to lose, based on conversations he's had with his former and current position coach. But Grant also expressed an interest in wanting to win the job outright. "I do believe there will be competition, which is fine," he told Milwaukee's WSSP, "I'm all for that."

Plus, it should be noted that the reason Starks was unable to push Jackson for reps for much of last season was due to his poor practice habits. By the end of the year Green Bay's coaching staff had no choice but to give him an opportunity, but that's not to say Starks has resolved those issues.

Grant has potential to be an every-week starter again for fantasy owners. Not sure the same can be said of Starks or any of the other backs on this roster.

Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for FootballDiehards.com.

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