Buffalo was his only scholarship offer coming out of high school, which is always the favorite story. He helped lead the school to a MAC championship in 2008, pulling off the upset over the 12-0 Ball State team led by Nate Davis.
The 2010 season started with starting running back Ryan Grant, damaging ligaments in his ankle. Brandon Jackson was given the duties, and performed well, until the team switched to the rookie John Starks. He would make his NFL debut in week 13 in Lambeau versus the San Francisco 49ers. He would run for 73 yards on 18 carries.
Starks played well, but would remain in a back-field duo with Brandon Jackson. He didn’t see another big opportunity to perform until the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers was a phenom, but had a struggling running game for years. The lightning struck in the playoffs as the team finally had both threats to their game. The Buffalo product would start each of the four playoff games as the Packers won three road games to reach Super Bowl XLV, which they’d win playing the Pittsburg Steelers.
He ran like a rookie trying to prove himself, which would become his regular style in green and gold. When a defender stood in his path, he was prone to try to run through him. James Starks always ran hard. The Packers opened the playoffs as the sixth seed, in Philadelphia against the Michael Vick led Eagles. He was a sixth-round rookie making his second start in the NFL. He’d run for 123 yards on 23 carries, as the Packers would upset the Eagles 21-16.
The job was his from there. The Packers would next blow out the Atlanta Falcons (sigh), winning 48-21. He was given a workload of 25 carries, gaining 66 yards. The Packers spent a good portion of the second half trying to get the clock to stop running, so many of his carries came with the Falcons expecting a run.
He made perhaps his biggest contribution against the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship game. The rookie would carry the ball 22 times for 74 yards. He scored his first career touchdown in a close game, which Jay Cutler sat out with second half due to a knee sprain. I can’t not bring this game up without noting that, anyway the Packers would win a close one 21-14, sending them to their first Super Bowl since 1998.
The Packers didn’t look to him often in the Super Bowl, but he performed well against a talented Steelers defense. He would gain 52 carries on 11 carries. Aaron Rodgers performed at an elite level, the defense made some plays, and the Packers were the Super Bowl Champions.
James Starks’ presence made teams worry about the Packers running game, he gave Rodgers an extra moment to do his thing. Without him, the young Packers may not have been able to ‘run the table’ (sigh), to give the franchise their first championship since 1997.
The expectations were high for the young back. He had all the intangibles to be a great back. He was 6’2”, with the strength and grit to run through guys, then give the defense a run for its money on the back end.
He would enter the semi-magical 2011 (15-1) season as the teams second back behind Ryan Grant. The Packers were a young team, that many thought could be the next dynasty in the NFL. The team had an incredible season, and their only regular season loss came in week 15 in Kansas City, a game Starks missed. He led the team in running that year with 578 yards, but injured his ankle late in the season.
The team would lose in Lambeau to the New York Giants in the Division round.
The Packers headed into the 2012 season still convinced of the running backs talents. Starks was now the Packers lead back, but never saw the opportunity to take advantage due to multiple injuries. He would only play in six games that season, and was injured for the playoffs.
The Packers drafted a back to compliment him in Eddy Lacy, leading into the 2013 season. The now veteran running back was still the lead back heading into the season. In the second week of the season, he ran for 132 yards on 20 carries against the Washington Redskins. He was once again just about to show everyone what he was capable of, but the following week he went down with a knee injury.
Eddy Lacy capitalized on the unfortunate injury, and the Packers gave the starting running back job to the rookie from Alabama.
The rest of his Packers’ career was spent as the change of speed back to Eddy Lacy. He performed well coming into the game and hitting holes as hard as he could muster. He ran for very respectable back up running back numbers. In 2014, he finished with 333 yards on 85 carries, four yards per carry, with one touchdown.
In 2015, he had his best year of his career. He would run for 601 yards on 148 carries, with five total touchdowns. He was still in the running back duo with Eddy Lacy, but Coach McCarthy continued to have faith in number 44. He started for Lacy against the San Diego Chargers in week six, running for 112 yards on 10 carries, with a 65 yard break away dash for a touchdown.
Lacy returned to the starting role the following week, leaving Starks as the change of pace back for the rest of the season. He hit the holes hard, and came away with four runs over 20 yards for the year. He consistently gave the offense a burst.
The 2016 season would be his final in Green Bay. He had the opportunity to start four games this year, the Packers would go 2-2 over that stretch. Starks struggled to get anything going in each of his starts, which again were plagued with nagging injuries he was playing through.
His last game in green and gold came versus the Seattle Seahawks in Lambeau. The Packers in desperate need of a win, blew the Seahawks out 38-10. He didn’t make much of an impact on the game, running the ball two times for three yards.
The next day, Starks would find himself in concussion protocol after he was injured in a car accident. He would struggle with concussion symptoms the rest of the year, leading to his release on February 7th.
He had all the talent to be the star in Green Bay for many years, but his determination to get every yard he physically could, led him to be injured most years. If it wasn’t for him embracing the situation his rookie year, the Packers could have zero championships in the past twenty years.
Respect for James Starks.