To run or not to run is not the question when it comes to the Seahawks.
Always a heavily debated topic in Seahawks fan circles, Seattle was again one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL last season, running the ball on 48.2 percent of its plays, fifth-highest in the NFL, behind Baltimore, San Francisco, Minnesota and Tennessee (and Pete Carroll would undoubtedly note that all five of those teams made the playoffs).
Which means the running-back position is always going to be a focus of any offseason for Seattle in assuring not only is it fully stocked for the year upcoming but, ideally, for years going forward (and if possible, avoiding some of the scenarios of the past few years when the Seahawks have been forced to sign running backs off the street to fill in due to injuries).
As we continue our overview of Seahawks’ position groups heading into the draft, let’s look at the backfield.
Projected starter: Chris Carson
Backups: Rashaad Penny, Travis Homer, Adam Choice.
Key offseason losses: Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Prosise and Robert Turbin are all free agents and remain unsigned. No one is ruling out that Lynch could play again this year at some point. But Seattle has to treat any possible Lynch return as a luxury, or as a potential complementary/situational player, and fill out the rest of its roster assuming he doesn’t come back.
Starter: Nick Bellore.
Key backups: None.
Offseason losses: None.
Carson, recovering from a fractured hip, is expected to be healed by the start of the regular season. But Carroll hinted not to expect much activity from him before the first game. Penny is rehabbing an ACL injury suffered Dec. 8, and it’s unclear when he will be back.
Homer returns after getting some significant work in the last week of the regular season and playoffs. Choice was an undrafted rookie free agent a year ago who spent the season on IR. He had 548 yards in his last year at Clemson in 2018.
It’s the situations of Carson and Penny that obviously will most influence what Seattle does this offseason.
Carson is entering the final season of his initial four-year rookie contract, and by NFL rules the Seahawks could extend him now. But there’s zero evidence they intend to do that now, and given both Carson’s injury history and that second contracts for running backs are increasingly viewed as risky, it’s unclear if they ever will (the selection of Penny in 2018 in the first round was also always viewed as providing an option).
Penny’s health, and how reassured Seattle feels that his injuries won’t impact his long-term future, will also play into how the Seahawks view the draft.
That Seattle has yet to sign a running back of any sort in free agency might indicate it feels pretty good about both, though some big names still remain unsigned, such as Devonta Freeman and Carlos Hyde (and maybe Seattle also thinks it can just grab Lynch whenever it might need).
Bellore is under contract for one more year, though the fact that the team could save $1.05 million against the cap if he were released means he’s going to have to earn his spot in training camp. It’ll be no surprise if the Seahawks pick up a young fullback at some point to compete for that spot.
Draft need (on scale of 1-10): 7.
Potential draft fits
The Seahawks wouldn’t seem to need to spend a high pick on a running back, especially after doing so two years ago on Penny. And given that their greatest running-back success of the Carroll/John Schneider era has come with late-round picks (Carson) or free agents (Thomas Rawls), you’d expect they’d just go that route again.
So, with that in mind, here are four running backs who figure to be available in the mid-to-late rounds who might be worth a look:
A.J. Dillon, Boston College: I had Seattle taking Dillon in the fourth round in a recent mock. As I wrote then: “Dillon is a really intriguing player, especially for the way Carroll likes to play. Dillon measured 6-0, 247 at the scouting combine, and any scouting report notes how difficult he was to tackle at BC. He’s not regarded as a good pass-catcher, but all of Seattle’s running backs are, so adding a bruising mauler’’ might make sense.
Zack Moss, Utah: You can find mocks that have Moss — who led the Pac-12 in rushing last year with 1,412 yards — going pretty high. But the general consensus seems to be more that he could be available for a team like Seattle late in the third round. Moss is one of the most punishing runners in the draft, ranking second among draftable players a year ago with an average of 4.1 yards after contact, according to Sports Info Solutions. He’s also a good enough receiver.
Joshua Kelley, UCLA: Kelley, who was fourth in the Pac-12 last year with 1,060 yards, figures to be available in the later rounds. The first three words of his NFL.com scouting report — “physical, downhill runner’’ — indicate he might be the kind of guy the Seahawks would take a flyer on, as is his story of going from a walk-on at UCLA to gaining 1,000 or more yards his last two seasons.
Michael Warren II, Cincinnati: Warren, generally projected as a late-round pick, is an interesting prospect, standing 5-11 and weighing 220 but lauded for his receiving ability and being able to line up outside and get open in man-to-man matchups. Athlon’s compares him in style to Le’Veon Bell. The Seahawks made an emphasis last year to try to throw more to the running backs, so you’d figure that’s an attribute that will continue to, uh, catch their eye.
Next: Wide receiver.