As the every-down back in arguably the league’s most dynamic offense, Lacy doesn’t hurt for opportunity. He’s averaged 21.9 and 18.8 looks (rushes plus targets) over his first two seasons. Even a RB of lesser talents would be set up nicely for production in Green Bay, and Lacy has excelled with his opportunities, averaging 96.8 scrimmage yards per game and churning out 24 touchdowns. And unlike most hefty-framed backs, Lacy is heavily involved in the Packers passing game. Among RBs with 300+ rushes since 2013, only nine have caught more passes than Lacy’s 77.
And his offense, of course, takes up residence in the red zone as often as any other. The Packers lean heavily toward the pass near the goal line, but are so flushed with red zone trips that even moderate short-yardage use gives Lacy a good chance at double-digit scores. A thumper at 231 pounds, he’s run for 15 touchdowns from inside the five over his two seasons (and caught another), giving him a robust floor.
Lacy doesn’t have any concerns over competition, either. He’s the Packers’ only runner with anything close to a feature-back profile. James Starks is an oft-injured backup type; he’s already 29 years old and has reached 4.0+ yards per rush in just two of his five seasons. The rest of the depth chart is filled out with practice squad types, miles from NFL relevance. And fullback John Kuhn’s days of vulturing goal line touchdowns are over – he’ll be 33 in September and has scored just three times over the last three years.
But it’s nary a running back without some darkened area on his expectation map. For all of his perceived stability, Lacy carries some real and potentially devastating injury concerns into his third NFL season.
Pushing the Limits of the Locker Room Whirlpool
Here’s where Lacy will give the shrewd fantasy owner some pause. Yes, any running back you pluck out of a hat will carry an elevated risk of injury. No, Lacy hasn’t missed an exceptional amount of time through his first two NFL seasons. And no, James Woods’ team doc from Any Given Sunday wouldn’t have any qualms with trotting him onto the field weekly. But you should absolutely, positively carry some level of concern into an investment in Lacy. He carries more risk into 2015 than almost any other RB on your draft board.
The Packers, of course, scooped up Lacy after trading down in Round 2 of the 2013 draft. Despite a first-round pedigree, Lacy was the fourth runner drafted in the class. In fact, Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel penned an extensive piece on the selection, wondering whether it was “one of the most hesitant draft choices that the Green Bay Packers have ever made.” That’s all speculation, of course, but you can certainly understand the concern: Lacy entered the NFL with one of the spottier injury histories we’ve seen in recent memory. Here’s a brief primer on Lacy’s bill of health, dating back to his high school days:
- 2008 (high school): limited to seven games due to an unspecified injury
- 2011 (Alabama): turf toe, underwent surgery in January 2012
- 2012 (Alabama): unspecified elbow injury
- 2012 (Alabama): fractured hand, surgical insertion of a metal plate and seven screws
- 2013: missed combine due to a torn pectoral muscle sustained while lifting weights, as well as an unspecified knee injury
- 2013: pulled hamstring during Alabama’s pro day
- 2013: scouting reports of fatigue during a private pre-draft workout
- 2013: left Week 2 and missed Week 3 with a concussion; knocked unconscious by a helmet-to-helmet hit
- 2013: battled an ankle injury throughout the season, left Week 16 after an aggravation
- 2014: left Week 1 after sustaining a second known concussion
- 2014: minor in-week limitations and uncertainty due to an eye irritation – he referred to himself as “pretty blind” – and a hip bruise
- 2015: confirmed an asthma attack during the NFC Divisional Playoff, which cost him nearly a quarter of action and has hampered him in cold weather
- 2015: limited during NFC Championship practice due to a sore knee
At best, that’s a horrifically unlucky stretch of injuries; at worst, it’s absolutely frightening. Lacy played through some of those injuries, and to date he’s only missed one full NFL game. But he’s missed chunks of a few others with various dings. Besides, the point of relaying these facts is not to “predict” an injury – only to note the elevated chance of future ones. It’s naïve to assume an injury-riddled player will suffer more down the road, but aggravations of past injuries happen every week. And Lacy has seen nearly his entire body battered – sometimes seriously – over the past seven years. Sad to say, there’s a lot of fertile real estate for aggravation up and down Lacy’s 231-pound frame.
And, of course, it’s hard to overstate the concern over his two known NFL concussions. As we’ve seen countless times over the last two decades, a player with multiple brain injuries stands in extended danger of missing future time. And Lacy runs with a punishing style, absorbing and dishing out quite a bit of contact. Any future concussions and/or neck injuries will subject his health to close NFL scrutiny at best – if not threaten his NFL future altogether.
Bear in mind that you’re not merely looking for expected production. Losing a player to injury here and there isn’t the only drawback in owning an injury-prone player. Investing that highly in a guy like Lacy will often leave you scrambling throughout the week, weighing the odds amidst a number of “questionable” and “game-time decision” tags. That’s not just a fantasy headache – it’s a legitimate detriment to your weekly strategy in many ways.
- No real competition. Lacy dominates the Green Bay backfield, with the rest of the depth chart comprised of strict backups and practice squad types. Aside from the occasional breather, there’s no situation in which we can expect Lacy to leave the game, so solid volume numbers should abound.
- Touchdown potential. His offense is as high-powered as they come, so Lacy is likely to again find himself in the red zone as often as just about any back.
- Youth. At just 25, Lacy is younger than most of his RB1 competition. There’s at least a bit more confidence – and upside – in investing here than in Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, or Jamaal Charles.
- Oh, that injury history. The surgeries and conditioning issues aside, Lacy’s recent concussion troubles add noticeable risk to the equation. Lacy isn’t necessarily a ticking time bomb, but extensive lists like that rarely avoid trouble forever.
- Lack of an upside in usage. Lacy is a major cog in the game plan, but he’s not often the focal point. He topped 17 rushes just twice in 2014, and he doesn’t really have game script on his side – the Packers often like to keep passing with a lead. With the game’s best QB and WR corps on the field, he’s not a candidate to take a big step forward in volume.
- Likely touchdown regression. Lacy posted a fine 2014, but much of his top-shelf value came from his studly 13 touchdowns. Some regression seems likely; RBs rarely catch four TDs in a season, and prior to Lacy’s arrival, no Packers back had run for more than three scores in a season from 2009-12.
You shouldn’t take this analysis as a plea to run screaming from Lacy. He’s a productive, 24-year-old dual threat in a world-class offense that frequently lines up near the goal line. He plays a position more fragile and less predictable than any other, with no real competition for touches or threat of losing time for ineffectiveness. There are few safer on-field bets for high-end RB1 production – and he even deserves consideration for a #1 overall pick in light of LeVeon Bell’s suspension.
But you’re strongly advised to take Lacy’s mile-long injury resume into account when setting your expectations. He has an outstanding fantasy floor when on the field, but a frighteningly volatile one overall. If nothing else, his history is a relevant nugget to file away when assessing Lacy’s level of risk, in both the short and long terms.
NumberFire’s Brandon Gdula floats Lacy as the potential top pick in your draft:
“Given the bust rates of fantasy backs, safety should definitely be factored into a first-round pick, and given the value of a top running back in fantasy football, Lacy makes sense as the first pick. It's not foolproof, but it is a sensible, safe option, one that likely won't ruin your season.”
But the Sports Injury Predictor, which uses an algorithm to forecast injuries and boasted a 67% success rate last year, categorizes Lacy as “High Risk” to miss time in 2015, noting his history:
“Eddie Lacy's style of play does lend itself to injury but he showed he could grind through it by playing hard through an injured ankle for most of his rookie year and dealing with various nicks and lumps last year. He has a high injury risk due to his workload and previous injury history and may end up missing a few games in 2015.”