Tracing the path of Seahawks rookie preseason star running back Chris Carson from his youth in Georgia to Seattle's backfield.
Chris Carson is one of four running backs the Seahawks have drafted in the last two years, taken out of Oklahoma State at No. 249 overall in the seventh round last April — only four players were picked after him.
But if what Carson has shown in the preseason follows through when the games count for real, he might be poised to make the biggest impact of any of the running backs Seattle has drafted the last two years.
With Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise out the last two weeks Carson has worked with the first team offense, essentially splitting time with Eddie Lacy, and leads the Seahawks in the preseason with 92 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns. He’s also caught four passes for 64 yards, including a 37-yard reception from Russell Wilson that was the longest offensive play for Seattle in Friday’s 26-13 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
“He always seems to do the right thing,’’ gushed Wilson following Friday’s game about the 5-11, 218-pounder. “For a rookie, I mean he has been really remarkable. I think he is going to have a remarkable year, as well.’’
Here are five things to know about Carson and how he got to where he is.
1. Carson grew up near Atlanta and set his mind on playing in the NFL when he was 6 years old
“This was my lifelong goal,’’ Carson, who turns 23 on Sept. 16, said last week.
He has also long been an avid follower of football and picked the Steelers as a favorite team when he was young saying he especially liked Pittsburgh running backs Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis — each stars of the team that beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.
“Fast Willie Parker was my favorite running back growing up,’’ he said of the player who scored a 75-yard TD run against Seattle in the Super Bowl. “But it’s weird because we have like two different playing styles. But I loved his game.’’
2. Carson was a star at Parkview High in Lilburn, Ga., and thought he was headed to play at the University of Georgia until suffering an ACL injury as a senior
Carson had already scored 17 touchdowns in nine games as a senior when he tore his ACL after catching a pass and being hit by a defender in the legs during his school’s homecoming game.
Carson had an offer from Georgia and thought he was headed to play there before the injury. But dealing with the injury helped lead to his grades slipping a bit — his mother, Dina, once told NewsOK.com that “his senior year, he kind of lost focus’’ — and other schools pulled their offers due to the injury and academic concerns. So Carson instead headed to Butler (Kan.) County Community College.
“It was tough, you know, just seeing a lot of my offers go away and having to take that Juco route,’’ he said. “But I had a lot of support — my family pushing me and helping me along. Mentally I overcame it and then physically I beat it, too.’’
3. He was headed back to Georgia following junior college before a late recruiting visit by Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy helped sway him to Stillwater.
After rushing for 994 yards and averaging 7.1 yards per carry as a sophomore at Butler County, Carson was regarded as one of the top junior college recruits in the country and had committed again to Georgia before Gundy came up with a plan to try to win him over during a home recruiting visit — bringing the Heisman Trophy Barry Sanders won in 1988 along with him and letting Carson hold it.
That, along with Carson regarding OSU as offering a better overall immediate opportunity for playing time at tailback, led Carson to sign with the Cowboys where he was a team captain and voted the team’s Most Outstanding Player as a senior in 2016, rushing for 1,076 yards overall in his two seasons despite missing five games due to injury.
4. Questions about his speed and durability helped lead to his fall to the seventh round in the draft — but Pete Carroll loved him
If Carson becomes the standout his early preseason work shows might be possible then it will only raise more questions about why he fell to the seventh round.
The answers lie mostly in concerns about his durability and speed. Carson had a sprained ankle that bothered him in 2015 and then a broken thumb in 2016 along with the ACL in high school. He also pulled a hamstring and didn’t participate in shuttle drills at the NFL Combine in February. Also, his longest run at OSU was 26 yards, which in part helped lead NFL.com in its scouting profile of Carson to conclude that he “lacks explosive, playmaking ability.’’
The NFL Draft Preview 2017 also noted Carson’s propensity for fumbling at the Juco level — something Carson worked with coaches to fix and didn’t have any as a ballcarrier during his OSU days — as well as what was regarded as a disappointing first year at OSU and wrote “must still prove he is a better football player than body builder.”
Carroll, though, leapt when he saw Carson still available in the seventh round. He noted later he watched film of Carson late in the process and marked him down as a player to watch come draft time and said on the day of the draft that “I was hanging on Chris Carson. .. I really love this guy because he is so physical and tough the way he ran.’’
Said Carson of hearing Carroll’s praise: “I was just blessed that someone with that high of standards said something so positive about me so I wanted to live up to it as best as I can.’’
Carson said he was already talking to other teams about potentially signing as an undrafted free agent before the Seahawks called to say they were taking him.
While many current Seahawks have often pointed to being taken later in the draft than they expected as a point of motivation Carson says he doesn’t care.
“I’m just blessed to be here,” he said.
5. Carson’s special team play may have impressed the coaches as anything he has done as a running back
Carson has opened eyes as a running back since the day training camp began and at this point he seems a lock to be on the 53-man roster to start the regular season. Not only has his rushing been impressive but so have his receiving skills — he has four receptions for 64 yards leading coaches to think he could fill in as a third-down and two-minute back, if needed.
But if there was any doubt as to his roster status he may have sewn it up with a play he made on the opening kickoff of the second half of the second preseason game against the Vikings a week ago Friday.
Carson had already been taken out of the game as a running back, essentially given a starter’s role for the game, with backups set to play the second half.
But then Carson was told to play on the kickoff team to start the third quarter.
“And he didn’t say one word about it,’’ said running backs coach Chad Morton. “Didn’t complain or say anything or give a look, no bad body language. He just went in there and was great at it and wanted to do it. So that sort of tells you about his character.’’
Carson, in fact, forced a fumble on the play with what he said was his first tackle since high school, when he also played some linebacker at Parkview.
The play brought to mind a conversation Morton said he had recently had with Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright.
“We were talking about these rookies and I was saying that he’s almost like a veteran,’’ Morton said. “he approaches it like a vet. Very mature, very serious. He just wants to get better. He’s always asking questions, wants to meet (with coaches). He doesn’t say a lot, not just because he’s quiet but because he knows that’s what you are supposed to do. You are not supposed to be out there messing around. You can’t believe he’s that young acting like that. It’s refreshing.’’