The Seahawks appear certain to make some significant changes to their running back corps after a sluggish 2017 season.
Simply put, the running back position was the most disappointing of any for the Seahawks in 2017 relative to the expectations it had entering the season.
The bigggest question entering the year was which running back would get the most carries — Eddie Lacy or Thomas Rawls? Maybe even Chris Carson?
But whether the team would have a better running game than in 2016? That seemed pretty much a given, especially with Russell Wilson — whose injuries had been credited for much of the downturn the year before — again healthy.
Instead, as the year wore on, those who follow the team closely were sent on weekly checks of the record books for single-season rushing futility.
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Seattle’s one rushing touchdown by a tailback — and that by a player who began the season listed as a receiver, J.D. McKissic — was the fewest in team history. The four overall rushing touchdowns — three by Wilson — also tied a franchise season low.
And take out Wilson’s 586 yards on 95 carries and the Seahawks rushed for just 1,043 yards on 314 carries, an average of just 3.3 per attempt (the Seahawks overall ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing at 101.8 per game and 4.0 per attempt).
It all compelled coach Pete Carroll to say after the season nothing would be more important in 2018 than getting a running game that was among the top four in the NFL from 2012-15 back in order, and was a key factor in the decision to remake the offensive coaching staff.
So what now?
Here’s a look at the key players from 2017 and some thoughts on how the 2018 backfield could unfold.
Snaps played: 153 (of 1,067), 14.34 percent
Stats: 49-208, 4.2 yards per carry.
Contract situation: Signed through 2020.
Snaps played: 218, 20.43 percent.
Stats: 58-157, 2.7.
Contract situation: Restricted free agent.
Snaps played: 137, 12.84 percent.
Stats: 69-179, 2.6.
Contract situation: Unrestricted free agent.
Snaps played: 74, 6.94 percent.
Stats: 11-23, 2.1.
Contract situation: Signed through 2019.
Snaps played: 175, 16.40 percent.
Stats: 68-240, 3.5.
Contract situation: Restricted free agent.
Snaps played: 297, 27.84 percent.
Stats: 46-187, 4.1.
Contract situation: Exclusive rights free agent.
Snaps played: 67, 6.28 percent.
Stats: No carries, two receptions for 65 yards.
Contract situation: Signed through 2018.
Carson, a seventh-round pick, surprisingly won the training camp battle to be the starter entering the season ahead of free agent signee Lacy — remember all the hubbub when the Seahawks were linked to not just Lacy but Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles and Latavius Murray last March? — and Rawls, who struggled with his health through the preseason.
Carson got off to a nice start with 208 yards in the first four games and Carroll indicated after the season he thinks the running game might have looked a lot different had Carson stayed healthy.
But he was knocked out for the season with an ankle injury late in the fourth game of the season and it was pretty much chaos from there.
Seattle went back and forth giving Rawls and Lacy chances to take the job and run with it but appeared to sour on Rawls for good following a 10-27 performance against Arizona while Lacy was mothballed following a 17-46 day against the 49ers, with the team turning to Davis — a waiver wire pickup last spring — for the final six games of the season.
The Seahawks at least basically knew what they would get from Davis, though his yards per carry average of 3.5 still ranked the lowest of any Seattle leading running back since 2010.
Prosise had another season lost to injury, which had the team turning to McKissic as its third-down back. McKissic proved dependable and durable and at times flashy.
Seattle largely went without a true fullback, using the 235-pound Madden in that role until he got hurt against Washington, though Madden played sparingly on offense with his greatest contribution coming on special teams.
In his post-season presser, Carroll mentioned Carson, Davis, McKissic and Prosise but not Rawls or Lacy, which seemed a pretty clear indication of who the team expects back and who it doesn’t.
The team could bring back Rawls, who is a restricted free agent. But it’s hard to see the team tendering him, which means he would then become an unrestricted free agent. Seattle re-signed Christine Michael in 2016 after not tendering him. But Rawls may also welcome a new opportunity.
The team would seem likely to tender Davis and only has to make a qualifying offer to keep McKissic.
But that leaves a lot of room — and need — for additions in the backfield and Seattle is likely to use both the draft and free agency to add to the tailback spot.
Seattle also may make fullback more of a priority. Madden returns and Seattle also signed former Tennessee fullback Jalston Fowler — who was on the practice squad at the end of the season — to a futures contract.
POSSIBLE FREE AGENT TARGETS
Salary cap constraints mean the Seahawks will probably be resigned to looking at the second wave of free agents for a tailback, if Seattle decides to go that route.
One intriguing option? Minnesota’s Jerick McKinnon, who could contend for both early-down and third-down back roles and provide a hedge against Prosise’s inconsistency staying healthy (there’s zero reason for the team to not bring back Prosise next year but Seattle also can’t assume it can rely on him at this point). McKinnon was drafted in the third round by the Vikings in 2014 with a pick Minnesota got in Seattle in the Percy Harvin trade.
Two others that might make some sense and might not break the bank? Veteran Frank Gore, who played the last two seasons with new Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer with the Colts and new OL coach Mike Solari with the 49ers and says he wants to continue to play even though he turns 35 in May. He could be a good, veteran complementary back to Carson. And maybe Orleans Darkwa, who quietly rushed for 751 yards and 4.4 per carry for the Giants in 2017, where Solari ran the offensive line the last two years.
POSSIBLE DRAFT TARGETS
It’s worth another reminder that Seattle at the moment has just pick number 18 in the first round and then nothing until the fourth. But that’s likely to change. And if Seattle does add picks, then a second- or third-rounder on a tailback could make some sense, if not maybe in the first round.
And if Carroll wants to dip back into the USC pipeline, Ronald Jones II seems like he could be a nice fit having run in closer to a pro-style system than a lot of others. Another player thought intriguing to the Seahawks is Oregon’s Royce Freeman, who at 5-11, 230 could provide the kind of big-back presence Seattle hoped this year to get out of Lacy.