Running back starter for Seahawks less important than finisher
The Seahawks sent a message when they drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round. Is that message that he’s the starter, or did it signal a deeper plan?
When the Seahawks called Rashaad Penny’s name in the NFL draft, they sent a clear signal that they were going to focus on the running game. We’ve already written about how so many of their off-season moves addressed the running game to help replace Jimmy Graham’s production. So let’s focus on exactly who will likely start, and if that truly matters.
First, we’ll look at Chris Carson. He didn’t start in week one, but certainly won the starting job with his performance against the Green Bay Packers. Eddie Lacy wallowed to a dismal three yards rushing on five carries. Carson snapped off 39 yards on just six carries. He was clearly the anti-Eddie, as he was explosive to the hole, and fought for every inch.
Carson proved he deserved the starting nod with 93 yards on 20 carries the very next week against the 49ers. The Seahawks found their running game – at least until Carson went down for the season in week four against the Colts. Lacy finally had a decent game subbing for Carson that day, with 52 yards on 11 carries. That would be Lacy’s only decent performance of the year, and the Seahawks running game foundered for weeks.
At least it did until Mike Davis jumped off the practice squad against the Falcons. Davis brought attitude back to the Seahawks, along with plenty of toughness. He also proved to be a decent threat to haul in a few passes out of the backfield. Davis gave Seattle a lot of what they’d missed ever since Carson went down.
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Two veterans and one rookie equals a solid backfield
Which leads us back to Rashaad Penny. Penny certainly established himself as a force in college. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry at San Diego State and scored 25 touchdowns from scrimmage as a senior. He also returned 81 kickoffs in his career, taking seven to the house. Apparently not satisfied, he also returned two punts in 2017 and scored on one.
And that leads us to the likely plan for the Seahawks. Chris Carson lost his job to injury, and you know how the saying goes. Unless of course your name is Wally Pipp; then you’re out of luck. So Carson is the nominal starter from day one of camp. Regardless of the late-season heroics of Davis, or the collegiate exploits of Penny, Carson will be the man to beat.
One thing to remember is the experience Penny has in the return game. With Paul Richardson gone, Tyler Lockett’s production as the number two wideout is more critical than ever. The Seahawks will give Penny every opportunity to take over return duties to keep Lockett fresh for the offense. The added time in special teams practice for Penny may not hurt his chances to grab the starting spot in the backfield, but it certainly isn’t going to help him.
In addition, one of the very few negatives in his game was pass protection. You can be sure that the first time he doesn’t pick up a blitz this summer, Penny is going to take a bigger hit on the depth chart than his quarterback did on the field.
Ultimately, does it matter who starts?
Considering the injuries the Seahawks have endured the past two years at running back, I’d say what really matters is who finishes, not who starts. Pete Carroll made it clear that he wants to run the ball a lot, to the tune of about 600 carries. With that many plays, everyone will get their chance to handle the rock.
In 2016 and 2017, Seattle didn’t have enough healthy backs to come close to that. Players like Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise gave it all they had, but they didn’t have enough with all their injuries. The Seahawks didn’t have enough productive backs either. Yes, Eddie Lacy, we mean you.
Chris Carson barely had time to acclimate to the speed of the NFL. How much better can he be after a second year of training camp? Mike Davis ran like a man possessed after he finally made it off the practice squad.
That being said, Carson’s most productive outing was 100 total yards against San Francisco. He never gained more than 66 in any other contest. Davis had a sweet 101 total yards against the eventual Super Bowl champion Eagles. Other than that, he never gained more than 65 total yards. The door is open for Penny to take over.
Regardless who gets the starting nod, what matters is that Seattle has hard running players throughout the season. With the shift to a better run-blocking line, I expect both Carson and Davis to have more success. Yes, I said both. With 600 carries, there should be plenty to go around. With his college pedigree, I expect Penny to eventually take the job. As long as the Seahawks get back to a dominant running game, I don’t think anyone cares who starts.