Thomas Rawls will take over lead running back duties with the retirement of Marshawn Lynch. But Seattle will also need to add to the position via free agency or the draft.
INDIANAPOLIS — Replacing the retired Marshawn Lynch seems simple enough — if not necessarily easy.
Just hand the job (and the ball 20 times a game or so) to Thomas Rawls and let him go.
But the answers from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider about the post-Lynch future of the position at the NFL combine this week weren’t necessarily quite that succinct, each indicating the team hopes to give Rawls some legitimate competition in training camp.
“Much like every position every year, we are going to be pounding hard to try to add as much competition to every group as we possibly can,’’ Schneider said. “Obviously running back is no different.’’
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True, you wouldn’t expect the “Always Compete” Seahawks to say anything else. And certainly, the Seahawks also know they can’t assume they can make it through a season with just one running back. Injuries meant Seattle had three different starting tailbacks ast season — Lynch, Rawls, Derrick Coleman and Christine Michael.
Prior to that Seattle had uncommon reliability in Lynch, who missed only one game from when the team acquired him in Oct., 2010 until early in the 2015 season. But such durability is hard to predict until proven consistently through the rigors of an NFL season.
Rawls displayed workhorse capability when healthy. But a calf injury limited him for a few games at mid-season, and then he suffered a broken ankle against Baltimore on Dec. 13 knocking him out for the rest of the year, which led to re-signing of Michael.
As the team enters free agency, Seattle has just two running backs on its roster — Rawls and Cameron Marshall, recently signed as a free agent after spending the last three years in the Canadian Football League.
Michael is a restricted free agent and also likely to return.
But either via free agency or the draft, expect the Seahawks to add another running back or two.
If Seattle does look to draft a running back, it likely wouldn’t come until the second or (most likely) third day.
Two running backs who project as mid-round picks who stood out at the combine — San Jose State’s Tyler Ervin and Cal’s Daniel Lasco — could also potentially fit the role of third-down tailback held last season by Fred Jackson and in the past by Robert Turbin.
Lasco had a staggering 41.5-inch vertical jump along with a 40-yard dash time of 4.46, compelling Pro Football Talk to tab him “this year’s Combine workout warrior.’’
Ervin had a 4.41 40, the second-fastest time among running backs.
“They are two running backs who definitely helped their cause,’’ said Rob Rang, a draft analyst for CBSSports.com. “They could be what Seattle is looking for. If you are Seattle you’d like to believe that Thomas Rawls would be your headliner so you are looking for more of a change-of-pace guy and Lasco and Ervin were both asked to catch the ball a lot. Because of that they could be exactly what Seattle is looking for.’’
Ervin, in fact, had 45 receptions for San Jose State last season while Lasco had 33 in his best college season in 2014.
Another running back who could prove an intriguing mid-to-late round pick is Keith Marshall of Georgia who recorded the best 40 time at 4.31. Marshall gained just 759 yards in four college seasons due to injury and working behind the likes of Todd Gurley.
“He’s been kind of cast in the shadows a little bit,’’ Rang said. “But he’s got good size (5-11, 212) and you saw the explosive athletic ability that he possesses. He is definitely one who has caught people’s attention.’’
That Keith Marshall didn’t put up big stats in college might not bother the Seahawks considering the progression of Rawls, who played sparingly in three years at Michigan before transferring to Central Michigan for his senior season when he had 1,103 yards before signing with Seattle as an undrafted free agent.
One combine invitee, Oregon’s Byron Marshall, thinks Cameron Marshall has a shot at making the roster, as well, though he has something of a vested interest in it — Byron Marshall is Cameron Marshall’s younger brother.
Cameron Marshall, listed at 5-11, 215 pounds by the Seahawks, played at Arizona State then spent time in camp with Miami in 2013 before suffering a hamstring injury and being waived in 2014. He played in 2014 and 2015 with Winnipeg in the CFL, gaining 614 yards on 141 carries and also catching 32 passes for 378 yards last season.
“He has good hands and he’s able to make people miss in space,’’ said Bryon Marshall, who shifted to receiver after beginning his Oregon career as a running back. “He’s a good athlete. I think it will work out for him (in Seattle).’’