The teams that passed on Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy in this year's draft will regret that mistake at some point this season.
He's already given his current team solid proof that he can resolve its well-publicized backfield issues and he's coming into this season with a substantial chip on his shoulder after dropping to the bottom of the second round. Lacy already had the talent to be a difference-maker. Now he has more motivation than any first-year player could ever need.
Lacy must look like a godsend to Green Bay fans right now. The Packers haven't had a Pro Bowl running back since Ahman Green, and Ryan Grant was their last ball carrier to crack the 1,000-yard mark (in 2009). That didn't seem like such a huge problem when Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers was coming of age and the Packers were winning a Super Bowl. Now it's obvious that Green Bay can't claim another title until its running game becomes formidable again.
The Packers got their first glimpse of Lacy's skills against St. Louis in their second preseason game. After sitting out Green Bay's preseason opener with a hamstring injury, he gained 40 yards on eight carries. He displayed quickness, agility, power and elusiveness during his time on the field. In short, he was everything the Packers have been hoping to find in a runner who could ease the pressure on Rodgers.
Lacy was so good it's worth discounting his struggles against Seattle this past weekend. His poor production (eight carries for minus-5 yards) had more to do with his circumstances than with any perceived setback. Lacy was playing with a second-string offensive line that was battling the Seahawks' starting defense. To understand how little running room there was in that contest, Packers backup quarterback Vince Young accounted for 39 of Green Bay's 75 yards rushing.
Lacy's impressive preseason work has made him the clear front-runner in the Packers' backfield competition. But it's more than mere numbers that will make Green Bay appreciate his presence. Lacy has been overcoming obstacles for most of the past eight years of his life. Fighting for a starting job with the Packers doesn't come close to what he's been dealing with before he entered the NFL.
Lacy saw his childhood home ravaged by Hurricane Katrina when he was only a 14-year-old growing up in Gretna, La. His family bounced around Texas and Louisiana – sometimes staying with family, other times with strangers – in hopes of stabilizing their lives in the aftermath. The Lacy clan wound up living in a trailer in Geismar, La., where Eddie finished high school. He spent a good portion of those years depressed and sullen, unable to shake the pain of watching his world implode.
The kid who came out of that chaos grew into an All-American at Alabama the old-fashioned way – by grinding it out. Lacy sat behind Mark Ingram, then Trent Richardson and eventually split time with freshman standout T.J. Yeldon last fall. Lacy could've lost his confidence when injuries and a slow start threatened to derail his junior year. Instead, he got stronger every week until he eventually earned offensive most valuable player honors in the Crimson Tide's victories in the SEC championship and national championship games.
The irony here is that somehow Lacy's mental toughness became a concern during the pre-draft process. He said some scouts questioned his passion for football when the topic came up in pre-draft interviews. Others (most notably Denver Broncos general manager John Elway) took issue with Lacy's surgically repaired toe, and many justifiably weren't impressed with Lacy's workouts. He missed the combine and Alabama's Pro Day with a hamstring injury and struggled with conditioning in his private audition for teams.
Although Lacy didn't help himself in the months leading up to the draft, his life story also tells a story of a resilient talent. You give a kid like Lacy a reason to prove himself and he finds a way to do exactly that. He actually turned in the two biggest games of his career – in that SEC title game win over Georgia and the national championship victory over Notre Dame – after learning that his father had been hospitalized with a mild stroke. That's the epitome of responding to the pressure of the moment.
Lacy might not have liked how he wound up with the Packers, especially after three other runners were selected ahead of him on draft day. He had been hailed as the most talented back in this class, and the first round seemed a likely destination for him. True to form, Lacy has used that disappointment as a reason to work even harder. He also has been so grateful for the opportunity to pursue his NFL dream that he is eager to reward the Packers for their faith in him.
This is what happens when you've been through the kinds of trials he has faced in his young life. Lacy has learned enough to know bad times don't last forever and it's best for him to focus on what he can control. The Packers obviously were concerned enough about their running game that they used a fourth-round pick on another back, Johnathan Franklin.
From day one, Lacy knew he wouldn't be given anything in his first year as a professional. That's certainly fine with him.
He made a name for himself at Alabama when many people wondered whether he could fill the large shoes left behind by Richardson's departure. He also endured everything Katrina did to his family, even when it as if like that pain would never end. Now all Lacy has to do is give the Packers that backfield boost they've lacked for three years. Given everything he's been through, he should end up being the biggest steal of this draft.