The imminent signing of Cedric Benson begs two questions. The first is why are the Packers interested in adding a 29-year-old running back? The second is why isn’t that 29-year-old running back named Ryan Grant. The answers to both questions are actually pretty easy. General manager Ted Thompson is adding a veteran running back because projected starter James Starks is having a disappointing summer. And he chose Benson over Grant because the former Bengal has been the better player for the past few seasons.
Starks entered training camp as the undisputed starter at running back. That became clear when Thompson made no attempt to re-sign Grant in the offseason. But instead of rising to the occasion, Starks has fallen flat on his face. His dropped pass and fumble against San Diego on Thursday night put an exclamation point on what was a terrible seven days. The former University of Buffalo standout dropped three passes in the two practices I attended last week and he was admonished several times by quarterback Aaron Rodgers for mental mistakes. The usually patient Thompson had finally seen enough.
Benson has been more durable than Grant, and more importantly, he’s been the better player since 2010. To run for over 1,000 yards on a team that doesn’t have a top offensive line or a potent passing attack is impressive. To do it for three straight seasons is even more impressive. And while Grant’s yards per carry average is slightly better (4.2 to 3.9), he did most of his running against defenses that barely paid attention to Green Bay’s ground game. Benson’s biggest flaw is ball security. He fumbled five times in 2010 and seven more times in 2011. He won’t be around for long if that disturbing trend continues.
There’s really no downside to signing Benson. At worst, he’ll push Starks to be a better player and be gone before the start of the regular season. At best, he’ll enjoy a career year running behind a quality offensive line and against defenses that will never dare to have more than seven men in the box. I just got finished watching a few Bengals games from a year ago. Benson isn’t as fast or explosive as he was in 2009 (his best season), but he runs hard and he can still make the first tackler miss. To put it simply, there’s some tread left on the tires. The Packers might just try to ride him all the way to New Orleans.