The Packers had high expectations heading into the 2010 season, and they obviously lived up to them. There were plenty of times where fans thought it would be another lost season with injuries and missed opportunities. One of the many hurdles they had to overcome to win Super Bowl 45 were injuries at the running back position. One could make the argument that the Packers don’t win their 13th championship without the major postseason contributions from then rookie running back James Starks.
The Packers took Starks in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Buffalo. Due to an injury he didn’t get to make his NFL debut until December 5th against the 49ers. He ran for 73 yards on 18 carries that game. He only carried the ball 29 times during the remainder of the regular season for just 101 yards. The Packers had Starks as RB4 on the depth chart, but a season ending injury to 2009 Pro Bowler Ryan Grant during the season opener in Philadelphia changed all of that. Brandon Jackson and Dimitri Nance took over at running back when Grant went down. Nance didn’t do a whole lot in the 12 games he appeared in, and Brandon Jackson wasn’t bad, he just didn’t give the offense what they were missing in Grant.
Then James Starks came in and had a pretty historic postseason in terms of Packers history. It all started with his postseason debut at Philadelphia in the Wild Card Round. His 123 yards on 23 carries remains a Packers rookie record to this day. The Divisional Round game at Atlanta was the Aaron Rodgers show. He was unbelievable and the Packers couldn’t get much going on the ground that game. Starks was held to just 66 yards on 25 carries, an average of just 2.6 yards per carry. The Bears defense held the entire Packers offense in check for most of the game in the NFC Championship, but James Starks was able to score his first career touchdown. It was one of only two offensive touchdowns that Packers would score in the game (we all remember their third and final touchdown that game).
Starks didn’t get a lot of carries in Super Bowl 45. He ran the ball just 11 times, but was effective when he did so. He racked up 52 yards on those 11 carries, nearly five yards a pop. He did just enough to keep the Steelers defense honest. He carried the ball 81 times over the four postseason games and did not fumble once. His 315 yards ranks third all time for rookies over a single postseason. 315 yards on 81 carries isn’t anything special, just under four yards a carry, but he always seemed to be there when the Packers needed him in 2010. Aaron Rodgers wasn’t great in the wild card game that year, and they probably don’t beat the Eagles without James Starks historic game.
Injures derailed the rest of Starks career, he was never able to stay on the field consistently. In his seven seasons with the Packers he only appeared in 76 games, rushing for 2,506 yards and nine touchdowns. His numbers will say he was just another guy, but fans will always remember the impact #44 had on securing a fourth Lombardi trophy.