If the quarterback room gets an A+ based on the starter alone – weighing depth in any sort of significant way brings the overall grade down considerably – then I think I have to go A- or even B+ for the running back room.
For starters, you definitely have to consider the depth much more here. When was the last time we saw a running back play all 16 games? Marshawn Lynch in 2013/2014 is your answer there (and, don’t forget, we’re up to an inane 17 games in 2021!). And also, to be perfectly honest, I’m not as high on any of these guys as I used to be.
I think it’s fair to say Chris Carson has A+ talent. But, to belabor a dead horse, you always have to add “when he’s healthy” to any blanket statement regarding Carson. After a flukey rookie year where he only appeared in four games, he’s gone 14, 15, and 12 games. Not great, but not terrible, I guess. Nevertheless, you KNOW you’re going to need to have another guy on the roster to start a few games, which has to reduce Carson’s overall grade.
And, I would argue we started to see Carson avoid some contact for the first time in his career in 2020. ESPECIALLY after he missed a month to injury in the middle of the season, and it became clear he was trying to preserve his body with his impending free agency looming this past offseason. He averaged 4.83 yards per attmept last year on the whole; you saw a pretty steep drop-off in the final three regular season games, averaging 4.19 yards per attempt. Now, he might’ve been trying to play through something, and so he really NEEDED to preserve his body just to stay on the field.
Also, by the way, he has every right to avoid bone-crunching hits and maybe take a few carries out of bounds instead of needlessly pounding his body into defenders every single time. The career-expectancy for a running back in the NFL is akin to the life-expectancy of a soldier in the Vietnam War; you just get chewed up and spit out. But, my contention is a lot of Carson’s value is in those extra yards he gets after contact, as well as the intimidation he instills in defenders who have to take him on for 15-20 carries per game. If latter-day Chris Carson is going to turn into Shaun Alexander, I don’t think you can even give him an A grade of any kind at that point, because he doesn’t have Alexander’s skillset (I always thought Alexander got a bad rap, but he was a great back for us, different than how Marshawn Lynch was a great back for us; but both were nevertheless great!).
Behind Carson, the drop-off has the potential to be pretty significant, though there is breakout potential from any number of guys.
Rashaad Penny is in the final year of his rookie deal. He’s briefly flashed A+ ability, but more often than not he’s been hurt, to even a more significant degree than Carson (who is the poster child for Injury Prone around these parts). He was lost for the season late in 2019, which left him out of commission for most of 2020 as well. When he returned in late December, he got a few touches here and there, but really made no impact whatsoever.
On the plus side, between doing most of his rehab in 2020, and having all of this past offseason to fully recover and get his body into “the best shape of his life”, we’re looking at a guy who’s motivated and hungry to show the NFL what he’s made of, as he heads into free agency after this season. It’s also fair to wonder how the new system will support his talents; I’m hearing a lot about the team being more under center than ever before in Wilson’s tenure. If that’s true, that definitely plays to Penny’s strengths more than working out of a shotgun set. If he’s indeed faster and stronger than ever before, it might finally be time to take advantage of his skillset in the passing game out of the backfield.
While the top-line talent in the running back room is suspect, the depth is pretty solid.
DeeJay Dallas got some run as a rookie last year. He wasn’t prepared to shoulder a starting running back load, but that was never supposed to be his fate in the NFL to begin with. He’s more of a third down back who can provide some value out of the passing game; but he’s not really a between-the-tackles runner like Carson or Penny. Having survived his rookie year, and hopefully pouring all his efforts into getting faster and stronger in 2021, I have high hopes that he’ll look a lot better. If that comes to fruition, he’ll be everything I could ever want out of a #3 running back.
Travis Homer largely held that role in his two years in the NFL, but he’s been a disappointment. I guess you could say he blocks well, but that’s not going to win you a ton of casual fans. I see a guy who’s slow and easily stuffed at the line of scrimmage on goalline plays. In other words, I see a guy who constantly elicits the phrase, “Why are they giving the ball to Travis Homer here?!” On top of that, he’s hurt and on the PUP. I would say: don’t hurry back. Get completely well and we’ll see you in six weeks.
But, to make up for that, we brought back Alex Collins last year! He’ll only be 27 in a couple weeks, even though he feels a lot older. That shouldn’t be over-the-hill for someone who didn’t even play in 2019, and only appeared in a handful of games with us last year. I would hope he continued to work on his fitness to make it as this team’s fourth or fifth running back, especially with Homer needing some time to get well. I think he’s got … enough to offer. He’s not great, but in a pinch if you needed him to start a game or two, I wouldn’t hate it. Which, by the way, happens with the running back room more often than I care to admit! Why do you think he was brought back last year in the first place?! Because all we had was DeeJay Dallas and he clearly wasn’t ready to take on a full time running back load! Shit, why do you think we’ve had Marshawn Lynch on speed dial the last two years?
The depth of this room really supports the B+ grade I’m giving it (with potential to raise to an A-, but I doubt it’s ever a top 10 unit in the league), but we’ll see how it goes. The big question on everyone’s mind is how Shane Waldron will balance the need to make Pete Carroll (run) and Russell Wilson (pass) happy. Obviously, you want balance. Obviously, a great rushing attack opens things up all over the place in the passing game. But, as Seahawks fans, it’s hard to not have PTSD with the play sequence of Run-Run-Pass-Punt that we’ve seen all too many times. That forces Russell Wilson – and an inferior defense – to be perfect, and that’s been too much to ask for a lot of years now.
There’s nothing really dynamic about the running backs on this team. As guys age and continue to deal with injuries, what is there to look forward to? What is there to count on? It’s not a matter of “if” guys get injured, but “when”. In that sense, all I can really do is spend the early part of the season worrying about injuries every time a guy steps awkwardly or gets hit hard; then I spend the rest of the season wondering when guys will return and if they’ll be the same as before. For what? Fleeting joy when Carson or somebody trucks a guy? Only to then think to myself, “What’s the cumulative effect of THAT hit? How many more before his shoulder snaps in half?”
When guys are consistently getting injured, there’s no joy in consistency. I’d almost rather they flush the entire running back room down the toilet and start over with the draft next year. Part of me is annoyed Chris Carson got that extension this offseason, even though it’s at most a 2-year deal for just over $10 million, with an out after this season that only costs us $3 million next year in dead cap space (and I think you could spread that out over two years, depending on when you cut him; regardless there’s $1.5 million of dead cap built into his contract with the void year of 2023). I feel like the Seahawks should just draft a running back every other year and make due with those guys and veterans making the minimum. Is Carlos Hyde – making just over $2 million this year with the Jags – really that much of a drop-off compared to Carson? Not really. And Carlos Hydes are ALWAYS available in free agency! You can’t walk ten feet without finding another Carlos Hyde – a durable veteran who will average 4 yards per carry – so why not just settle for them, and hope you hit the lottery every few years with a rookie who pops? Carson was a 7th rounder, you can’t tell me this isn’t a sound strategy!
Honestly, my favorite running back on this team is probably Nick Bellore, the fullback. Dude almost NEVER plays on offense – so he never has an opportunity to disappoint – he crushes it on special teams – making the Pro Bowl in 2020 for his efforts – and I’m reading about him moonlighting as a linebacker in training camp! Get out of here, that’s amazing!
Finally, I’ve never heard of … Cameron Scarlett or Josh Johnson. If they make the 53-man roster, I’ll eat my hat.