Competition is fierce for the Seahawks fullback in 2018

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 29: Running back Tre Madden #38 of the Seattle Seahawks makes a reception for a 66 yard run against the Houston Texans during the third quarter of the game at CenturyLink Field on October 29, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 29: Running back Tre Madden #38 of the Seattle Seahawks makes a reception for a 66 yard run against the Houston Texans during the third quarter of the game at CenturyLink Field on October 29, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

We know the Seahawks plan to reboot their run game, and the fullback drives the machine. So who will get the keys to the truck?

We’ve seen abundant evidence – for you Rams fans that got lost, abundant means a lot – that the Seahawks intend to get back to the running game in a big way. Most of what they’ve done in the off-season points to that. From hiring Brian Schottenheimer to drafting Rashaad Penny to signing D. J. Fluker, the Seahawks clearly mean business on the ground in 2018.

Those are all key pieces, but there’s still one key piece to add to the machine, and that’s the fullback. As our own Steve McGrain wrote a few months ago, the fullback became the forgotten position in Seattle last year. As Steve alluded to then, Schottenhemer needs to get back to basics with the run game. And having a fullback driving that running game is as basic as it gets.

We’ve already shown that Schotty does indeed appreciate having a great fullback lead the way. I have no doubt that he’ll make pretty heavy use of a fullback in 2018. The question is, who gets the nod? Right now, the Seahawks have four candidates in camp for the job. Each brings their own  very particular set of skills to the job. In the end, only one will be a nightmare for opposing defenses. So who will win out?

Seahawks have some tough decisions coming

The players will have a lot to do with Seattle’s decision, of course. The four in question – plus any possible late additions – have all summer to show they’ve got what it takes to fortify the Seahawks running game. Obviously they’ll have to run block, but they’ll also have to be able to pick up blitzes, and hopefully snag a few passes along the way. Marcel Reece excelled at the job as he earned three Pro Bowl appearances with the Oakland Raiders before coming to the Seahawks at the end of 2016. Reece was in for 52 snaps in his four games, an average of 13 per game. That’s important, so remember it.

For some context, let’s look back to when the Seahawks knew what a fullback was. In 2012 Michael Robinson was blocking for Beastmode. He was in for 328 snaps, an average of 20.5 per game. In 2013, Robinson and Derrick Coleman combined for 277 snaps, an average of 17.3 per game. Let’s fast forward to 2017, and the guy who at first glance wasn’t a great fullback.

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Tre Madden will make it tough for his competition

Tre Madden. Madden played just eight games in 2017 before he went down with an injured calf. After all, he was a Seahawks running back, and it was in the league rules last year that no Seattle back could play a full season. In those eight games, Madden was in for just 67 snaps, or an average of just over eight snaps per game. Remember, Reece got 13 snaps per game, Robinson 20. How effective can you be when you’re in for just six plays a game?

Madden had zero carries last year, but he did catch a couple of passes. You may remember one of them, his spectacular 66 yard catch against the Houston Texans. Seattle needed every yard they cold get in that showdown, and Madden came up big.

Pro Football Focus graded Madden at 72.5 for run blocking and 70.7 for pass blocking. If he’d had enough attempts to qualify, this would have placed him at sixth best for the run, and sixth best at pass blocking. Madden won’t be easy to beat. In fact, the most likely way Madden will lose out is to injury. Not only did he miss eight games last year, but he missed two seasons in college and battled injuries in his junior and senior years. Clearly he was born for the Seahawks backfield.

Khalid Hill of the Seahawks
WEST LAFAYETTE, IN – SEPTEMBER 23: Khalid Hill #80 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates in the fourth quarter of a game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Ross-Ade Stadium on September 23, 2017 in West Lafayette, Indiana. Michigan won 28-10. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Some new kids in the Seahawks backfield

Marcus Martin. Martin is one of the seventeen thousand undrafted free agents the Seahawks picked up. We must root for Martin, as he’s from the mythical school of Slippery Rock. Okay, it’s not mythical, but everyone knows the name and only about 37 people outside of Pennsylvania know where it is.

Martin has the college football career record for sacks, and is a great story. I’d love to see him make the team on special teams, but his competition at fullback is fierce, especially for someone just learning the position.

Jalston Fowler. Fowler played the previous three seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Sadly, we know from experience know the Titans can run the ball. Over his three seasons in Tennessee Fowler got 145, 190, and 94 snaps. He missed the last six games of 2017, so his overall average held pretty steady at just over 10 snaps per game.

The Titans running game took a  big leap forward in Fowler’s second year, but I’d say that had more to do with the arrival of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry than Fowler’s blocking prowess. Pro Football Focus graded him as a fine pass blocker (69.0), but not so hot at blocking for the run (40.9). In my mind, he’s behind Madden.

The dark horse candidate to lead the way for Seahawks backs

Khalid Hill. This is the guy that really intrigues me. At 6′ 2″ and 265, he’s far more physical than the other candidates. He can catch a little, as he brought in 16 passes for 118 yards and three touchdowns as a junior for the Michigan Wolverines. He had 42 carries for just 73 yards in his collegiate career.

You probably guessed most were short yardage situations, but he did find the end zone 13 times on those runs. According to his draft analysis, Hill needs to work on his blocking technique, but I love that he can “Bring the funk and leave linebackers on the wrong side of the battle.”

Next: The Seahawks 2018 version of Mount Rushmore.

Right now I’d give the edge to Tre Madden, as he’s done the job for the Seahawks and simply needs more opportunities to open more lanes. But if he slips a bit – or gets injured – look for Hill to pick up his game and make the team. Hey, can anyone call Mack Strong and see if he can help a young fellow out?