Would Eddie Lacy Be Just Another NFL Running Back Without Aaron Rodgers?

Aaron Rodgers is and has been one of the NFL's best passers. Is he the only reason Lacy is successful?

Watching Eddie Lacy run over defenders and drag them 15 yards down field is a thing of beauty. To say the least, he isn’t Sproles-ian, but he is shifty for his size with excellent vision.

Lacy is big guy, weighing 230 pounds and standing just 5 feet 11 inches tall. So big in fact that. after some unflattering pictures surfaced in his rookie season, some gave him the nickname Fat Eddie. But this size helps Lacy run over would be tacklers with ease on Sundays.

Lacy also has the benefit of playing with an elite quarterback, who is perhaps in a tier all his own, in Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers can pick apart a defense and craft scoring drives essentially at will. Rodgers has yet to throw an interception this season and has already thrown 11 touchdown passes, putting him on pace for 44 on the year.

Without defenses stacking the box, Lacy usually has lanes aplenty to run through. This begs the question, is Lacy really that good or just another guy benefitting from Rodgers excellence?

Learning About Lacy

First let’s look at Lacy’s history. Lacy was drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft in 2013 with the 61st overall pick. Remember, the Packers also drafted Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round that same year. Unfortunately, Franklin suffered a career-ending neck injury in his rookie season. 

Basically by default, the job was Lacy's.

When diving into both Rodgers and Lacy’s Net Expected Points (NEP), the results are as good for both players, as expected. NEP is our signature metric at numberFire. If a player contributes to the team's chances of scoring above expectation they receive a positive NEP.

Out of 29 qualified quarterbacks who have attempted at least 100 drop backs this season, Rodgers has the fifth best Passing Net Expected Points per drop back at 0.36. Lacy has the best Rushing NEP per carry out of 21 running backs with at least 50 carries on the season at 0.18. 

Rodgers' Running Buddies

Looking at past running backs from Rodgers’ career to see out how much positive influence he has on their statistics is a mixed bag.

Aside from Lacy, the first feature running back to play with Rodgers was Ryan Grant. Grant posted some very strong rushing seasons early in his career with Rodgers. Grant is also the only back in Rodgers career to come close to the numbers Lacy has put up in his first two seasons.

In Grant’s first season as a starter with Rodgers he rushed for 1,203 yards and 4 touchdowns on 3.9 yards per carry. In Lacy’s rookie season he rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns on 4.1 yards per carry. 

Lacy’s Rushing NEP per carry in his rookie season was 0.01 on 285 carries. Grant’s Rushing NEP in 2008 was -0.10 on 312 carries. Based on statistics and Rushing NEP, chalk the season one comparison to Lacy.

For what it's worth, Rodgers owned a Passing NEP of 89.15 in 2008 on 570 drop backs (0.16 per drop back). In 2013, he was twice as efficient with each drop back, tallying 98.12 points above expectation with his passing on 311 drop backs (0.32 per drop back).

In season two playing with Rodgers, both Lacy and Grant also put up strong totals. Lacy rushed for 1,139 yards and 9 touchdowns on 4.6 yards per carry. Grant totaled 1,253 yards on 4.4 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns in 2009.

While the rushing edge in this comparison appears to go to Grant, Lacy caught 42 passes for 427 yards and another 4 touchdowns in 2014. Grant on the other hand caught just 25 passes for 197 yards and no receiving touchdowns.

Rushing NEP was not kind to Lacy as he posted a -0.03 on the season. Grant on the other hand posted a mark of 0.06. When considering how productive Lacy was through the air that season, we might as well check out their Total NEP scores, which combines rushing and receiving production.

Grant's Total NEP in 2009 was 23.54, which ranked 13th among running backs that season. Lacy's Total NEP of 26.80 ranked 12th at the position last season.

After a few successful years as Green Bay’s bell cow, Grant missed all but one game in 2010 and battled injuries his final two seasons. The running backs Rodgers took the field with aside from Grant and Lacy have been pedestrian at best.

In 2011, Grant shared the backfield with James Starks, and the two produced almost identical stat lines, combining for 1,137 yards on 267 carries and 3 rushing touchdowns. Starks has developed into a quality back up for the Packers who can fill in when needed but has not turned into a consistent rusher for the Packers. In his five seasons prior to 2015, Starks owned a positive Rushing NEP just once, though it was an impressive 17.20 in 2013.

2012 was the Alex Green show, as he led the Packers in rushing with just 464 yards on 135 attempts. He posted a Rushing NEP of -18.98. After playing just 16 games in two seasons for Green Bay, Green last played for the New York Jets in 2013.

The rusher with the best statistically season with Rodgers aside from Grant or Lacy was Brandon Jackson in 2010. Jackson didn’t do much on the ground that season with just 703 yards on 3.7 yards per carry. He did make up for some of the poor rushing stats with 342 receiving yards. Jackson finished that season with four total touchdowns. His Rushing NEP (-8.12) wasn't exactly stellar, and even with a decent receiving output, John Kuhn owned a higher Total NEP than Jackson did that season.

A Verdict

That brings us back to the man in question Eddie Lacy.

Is he good or would he be just another Trent Richardson if not drafted into one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses?

Lacy has experienced life without Rodgers in his career. In Lacy’s rookie season Rodgers missed seven weeks of the season with a broken collarbone. In those seven weeks with Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn piloting the offense, Lacy was inconsistent, but his final totals turned out solid. Lacy was held to under 75 yards rushing in four of those seven games. 

The final tally without Rodgers was 129 carries for 517 yards and 6 touchdowns. Ask Jordy Nelson how the absence of Rodgers affected his numbers. The Packers won two games, lost four, and suffered a tie in one. Lacy couldn’t carry the offense to a winning record, but most running backs can’t without a serviceable quarterback. Adrian Peterson has been to the playoffs only three times in nine seasons, one of them during Brett Favre's last stand part deux.

Lacy’s numbers have been impressive through two full seasons.

As good as Rodgers and the Packers offense is and has been, they haven’t been able to turn just any player in the backfield into a surefire producer. Lacy has played without Rodgers in seven of 35 career games. In those games his numbers were almost identical to his career averages. He's put up better numbers than the other running backs who have played alongside the Packers' franchise quarterback.

Lacy can run over defenders, hit gaps, and score touchdowns with or without Aaron Rodgers.