Once is good, but twice is better.
Players in the NFL have breakout seasons all the time, but it takes a truly special player to put together back-to-back phenomenal seasons in this league. Thinking about this fact got us contemplating about some of the best two-season stretches in Packers history for skill position players.
Obviously this team has seen multiple quarterbacks with unbelievable two-year stretches, but we’re not diving into those today. The same can be said of star defensive players.
We started to think of this concept right around when we had the idea to do a career retrospective of sorts on one of the most enigmatic players in recent Packers history — Eddie Lacy.
The two ideas mesh nearly perfectly, in fact.
Lacy stormed onto the scene with a Pro Bowl rookie season in 2013 and followed that up with an arguably even better 2014. It seemed like he and Aaron Rodgers would team up to lead this team to certain glory in the coming years. But, as the story goes, he couldn’t control his weight and by the age of 27 he was on his way out of the NFL.
His career is defined by his quick demise, but we feel Lacy deserves recognition for those dominant first two seasons.
Lacy’s hard-nosed, power running style and the arc of his short-lived career somewhat mirrored former great Packers runner John Brockington. History, as they say, tends to repeat itself.
Both burst into the NFL with immediate success, known for breaking tackles and running through would-be arm tacklers. For being bigger, the bruising backs both showed proficiency in catching the ball, too. Unfortunately both played a hell of a lot less games than they should have.
To their symmetrical credit, both won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. They’re still the only two players in Packers history to win that award. Both went to the Pro Bowl as rookies as well.
However it is worth nothing that Brockington was, overall, the much more accomplished back and was forced out of the league by a combination of being overused, accumulative leg injuries, and a lack of quarterback success to go along with his straight-forward running style. Brockington was named First Team All-Pro in 1971 to go along with his three Pro Bowls. To be fair, Lacy did average more touchdowns per game and fewer fumbles per touch.
Despite having a short career (35 fewer games played than Brockington), Lacy’s highlights show how dangerous of a weapon he truly was. Not blessed with breakaway speed, he still wasn’t afraid to cut back and reverse field when running the ball. It’s cliche to say of a big back, but he truly did seek out contact when he got in the open field. His 4.4 yards per carry in Green Bay are a fantastic reminder that on a per-play basis, he was one of the best in the league for a short time.
Screen passes to Lacy are some of our favorites of his tenure. He had impressive instincts and knew how to let the play develop while following his blockers. There’s nothing on earth more beautiful than a well-executed screen pass.
Another facet of Lacy’s game that jumped out to us was his ability to take a small dump-off pass, when downfield options were covered and Rodgers had to get rid of the ball, and make something happen. Often, he would turn a last resort into a huge play. His pass catching skills had been missed in Green Bay since his third (and final productive) season in 2015, until 2019 when current runner Aaron Jones showed he can be a featured back and a reliable receiving threat.
In the open field, when Lacy chose not to initiate contact, he’d instead hit defenders with his patented spin move. Because of that move, many otherwise ordinary runs have turned into classic, perennially re-watchable highlights. His stutter-step helped him evade tackles, too. That said, it never got old watching him drag tacklers or push the pile.
He was an easy guy to root for, he brought a level of fun to the offense. His smile was infectious and he didn’t conform to the typical “jock” persona. We remember one story from when he was a rookie that all he cared about regarding his new television package was that it had cartoons, since he didn’t really watch sports.
From day one, Lacy, a former Alabama Crimson Tide star and multiple National Champion, brought instant toughness to a Packers offense known for its finesse and aerial attacks. On the field, he had a relentless motor and drive to find the end zone. We wish we could say that about his off-the-field habits.
One theory that seams plausible about his falling out of the NFL is that as a professional Lacy finally had two things he never had before: money and free time (neither of which he had as a college star). The availability of these things may have compromised his work-ethic. For a man of his size, that’s a bad combination of factors.
Although of course we weren’t there and do not know how hard he worked or what other factors were at play. Sometimes things just stop working out no matter how hard you try. And that’s okay.
It shouldn’t have to be said, but we harbor absolutely no ill will toward him and wish the best for him in is post-football career. The people that continually make fun of his weight are childish and should get their Packers fandom stripped.
We cherish the memories of watching Lacy run against the Minnesota Vikings first and foremost. There was something cathartic in how he ran over men in purple shirts; something about that rivalry clearly got him fired up. His 618 rushing yards against Minnesota were the most of any team in his career. The same goes for touchdowns scored (6). He ran over numerous Vikings as he amassed those stats.
But it wasn’t just the Vikings that he terrorized in those few seasons he played.
This is evident by the fact that Eddie Lacy is just one of three Green Bay Packers, all-time, to ever put up 3000+ yards in a two-year span. One of just three! Let that exclusivity marinate for a moment.
Presenting the three best two-year stretches in Packers history in terms of yards gained:
Ahman Green (2002-03): 3883 total yards from scrimmage.
Jim Taylor (1961-62): 3062 total yards from scrimmage.*
Eddie Lacy (2013-14): 3001 total yards from scrimmage.
*Taylor accomplished this feat in 14 game seasons.
What does this tell us? It tells us that prime Eddie Lacy, although extremely short-lived, was an absolute force in the NFL. It also tells us that Ahman Green was an under-appreciated but historic force in those years. His legend was overshadowed by Brett Favre then and still is today.
However, the fact that Jim Taylor did that much damage in just 28 games… wow. I don’t think there’s a question that Taylor is the best overall runner in team history when pairing that impressive of a peak with a consistent career that included four World Championships.
The fact that Lacy is grouped with the top two runners in Packers history is quite the accomplishment. Green is the Packers’ all-time leading rusher (8322 yards) and Taylor is second (8207 yards). Of course, this is where Lacy’s legacy falls off on the all-time spectrum as his success obviously wasn’t sustained. He’s still 10th in franchise history in rushing yards gained, despite playing just 51 games in the green and gold. Not many people would guess that to be true.
Lets look at a few other notable yard-gaining runners in Green Bay’s history and their best two-year stretch.
Here we’ll go in ascending order of total yards gained. Donny Anderson’s best two-year stretch (1970-71) he amassed 2330 total yards from scrimmage in 14 game seasons. John Brockington (1972-73) posted 2542 yards from scrimmage, also in 14 game seasons. Dorsey Leven’s best two-year total (1996-97) was 2597 yards from scrimmage. Ryan Grant (2008-09) posted 2769 yards from scrimmage in his best two-year-stretch; talk about an underrated player. Edgar Bennett (1994-95) came the closest of these backs to 3000 yards by registering 2884 over those two seasons.
When looking ahead, Aaron Jones is coming off a two-year stretch (2018-19) of 2492 yards, but that’s with just eight starts in 2018. If he amasses 1500 yards next year, which is a definitive possibility, he’ll be the fourth Packer to his 3000+ yards in a two-year stretch (2019-2020). But again, nothing is guaranteed as that would take another stellar season. I mean, we don’t even know what the NFL season will look like with ongoing COVID-19 concerns.
All of this just goes to show how special that two-year stretch from Eddie Lacy really was to start his career. In that two-year stretch he was better than all of those special runners we just listed.
Lacy is firmly one of the best running backs in Packers history and certainly one of the most memorable.
American football was a different game in the 1920s, 30s, 40s and even the 50s and the great Packers runners of those decades didn’t amass the same raw totals of those that came later. Thus, Verne Lewellen, Johnny Blood, Clarke Hinkle, Ted Fritsch and Tony Canadeo obviously aren’t going to be included in this statistical breakdown. Some fans may be surprised that Paul Hornung, despite his abilities and usage, never put up a ton of yards in Lombardi’s offense in the 1960s, so he also isn’t included here either.
Wide receivers to top the 3000 yard mark in a two season stretch include:
For wide receivers in Packers history, none of them have amassed over 3000 yards in a two season stretch in Packers history. So, we’ll just go in chronological order of guys that hit at least the 2000 yard mark over the span of two seasons.
Don Hutson (1942-43) posted 2032 total yards from scrimmage, the first wide receiver in NFL history to hit that plateau over a two-year stint. The next receiver in team history to do so was James Lofton (1983-84) with 2779 yards from scrimmage, the highest two-year total of his career.
Notice the 41 year gap between Hutson and fellow Hall of Fame inductee Lofton.
Next up was Sterling Sharpe (1992-93) with 2751 yards from scrimmage. Sharpe, along with a few other receivers, accomplished the feat multiple times, but we’re just listing their best two-year stretches.
After Sharpe was Robert Brooks (1994-95) with 2166 total yards, although most of the yards were accrued in ’94. Then Antonio Freeman accomplished the feat (1997-98) with 2686 yards gained. Donald Drivers’ top two-year stretch (2005-06) peaked at 2545 total yards. That total beat Greg Jennings’ top two-year stretch (2008-09) of 2405 yards.
Jordy Nelson came the closest of any Packer receiver all-time to the 3000 yard mark in a two-year stretch (2013-14) with 2833 yards amassed. Randall Cobb was next to hit the mark (2014-15) with 2203 total yards. Davante Adams is the latest Packer to accomplish the milestone (2018-19) with 2383 total yards, despite missing five games to injury and playing through more with injury. He has a chance, albeit a small chance, to hit 3000 yards in 2020-21. Although we adore Adams, if we were betting we’d take the under.
To date, no Packers receiver has ever topped 3000 yards in a two-year stretch.
For reference on how difficult this milestone is to accomplish, Randy Moss hit it just once (2002-03) with the Minnesota Vikings when he put up 3048 yards from scrimmage. Jerry Rice had three such stretches in his career (1989-90, 93-94, 94-95) with the San Francisco 49ers.
So, we’ve already established that it’s easier for a running back to hit the milestone than a receiver, but this next fact is just mind-boggling.
Just how good was Barry Sanders? In every two-year stretch of his career with the Detroit Lions, he surpassed 3000 yards from scrimmage except once (1992-93). In those two-years he put up just 2897 total yards. Slacker. In his final two seasons he accomplished it, which lets you know he really did walk away in his prime.
Lets take one last look at Eddie Lacy’s stats, specifically his receiving stats.
Here is the list of Packers runners to record at least forty receptions and four receiving touchdowns in a single-season:
Eddie Lacy (2014) to go along with Ahman Green (2003), Dorsey Levens (1995, 1997), and Edgar Bennet (1994, 1995). Just four different runners have ever done it in Packers history for a total of six times.
Due to incomplete statistics, however, we cannot say for certain that Johnny Blood accomplished this feat in 1931. We’d be willing to bet he did, as he caught 11 touchdown passes that year, yet we cannot say for sure.
Our memories of Lacy catching the ball clearly aren’t overblown; he was a rare pass-catching back during his years in Green Bay. The final year of his five year career was in Seattle, but after just three starts he’d hang his cleats for the final time.
As a Packer, he bought his parents a house, fulfilling a promise he made as a kid after their home got destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Like we said, he was easy to root for.
He endeared himself to all Packers fans as a rookie when he scored a touchdown at frigid Soldier Field in the Packers’ miraculous “4th and 8” win over the Chicago Bears in Week 17 in 2013 with the NFC North crown on the line. His highlight reel score brought Green Bay within one score of its ancient rival. After scoring, he gave the crowd a well-timed “shhh” with one finger held up to his face mask.
Exactly eleven minutes of game-time later, with Randall Cobb crossing into the end zone with 38 seconds remaining, the crowd took his sage advice.
Still, some Packers “fans” can be pretty ruthless when it comes to Eddie Lacy and his legacy, but the numbers he put up in 2013-14 simply cannot be ignored. In the scope of best two-year stretches he’s on par with Ahman Green and Jim Taylor, which is something no other runner in Packers history can say.
That can never be taken from him and he should be celebrated by the fans. For those that mock him, he was far better than you realize.
It was a short ride, sure, but at least we have those highlights we can watch. Especially the ones where he trucks those cowering Vikings defenders, which he did with regularity.