GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers picked Alabama running back Eddie Lacy on Friday in the second round of the NFL draft with the 61st overall selection, landing a player widely pegged as a prime prospect for their first-round slot.
The Packers swapped second-round spots with San Francisco, moving down six places in exchange for an early sixth-round pick from the 49ers, the 173rd overall selection.
The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Lacy finished with a career average of 6.77 yards per rush, the most among active players last year in major college football, but he fell all the way down the board to the second-to-last spot in the second round.
There were concerns about his health, a hamstring problem that prevented him from participating in the NFL pre-draft combine in February and working out for scouts until a couple of weeks ago on the Alabama campus. His performance was considered a disappointment. But Lacy, on a conference call with Wisconsin reporters, said he couldn't worry about why he fell so far.
"At the end of the day it is what it is," said Lacy, a native of Louisiana who rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. "You can't do anything about it, and I'm just looking forward to being part of a new team and contributing as much as I can."
Lacy said he's never had hamstring trouble before this.
"It took a while to heal, longer than we expected. But as of right now, I'm 100 percent," Lacy said.
The Packers could use a powerful workhorse-style runner like Lacy, who helped lead the Crimson Tide to the national championship in January. The only other tailbacks on the roster are DuJuan Harris, James Starks and Alex Green. Combined, those three have six seasons on the roster and 1,608 career yards rushing.
"I'm a bigger guy, a tough runner, a physical runner. That's just natural. But I'm also shifty and I can make defenders miss and also break long runs. I just feel like I can do anything," said Lacy, who was in New York for the first night of the draft. He said he turned on his phone as soon as he landed in Alabama on Friday, and the Packers were calling.
Director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst said the Packers also like Wisconsin running back Montee Ball "a lot" as well, but they took advantage of the opportunity to add an extra pick with confidence they'd still be able to get a player they wanted. Gutekunst said the Packers weren't concerned about Lacy's durability.
"He's played through whatever he's had, so I don't think it's going to be a concern," Gutekunst said, adding: "He has kind of an uncanny knack to get out of trouble for a guy his size. He's a little bit different than we've had maybe in the past. He's a really good player. He's been a good player there the whole time even though he's been behind some very good backs. I think he gives us a little bit of size we haven't had for a while. You watch the film, he rarely goes down with one guy trying to tackle him."
Lacy played behind Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram, both first-round draft picks, before getting his time to shine last season.
Ball went to Denver at No. 58. Giovani Bernard of North Carolina and Le'Veon Bell of Michigan State went earlier in the second round. This was the first time since 1963 that a running back wasn't selected in the first round of the draft. But Lacy now has his opportunity to prove all those teams that passed on him wrong, much like quarterback Aaron Rodgers after he tumbled down the board to the Packers in 2005.
"It was a very long wait. It was very nerve-wracking for me," Lacy said on a conference call with reporters. He added: "That's going to be a big motivation."