In my continuing quest to improve Seattle's running back talent, I present another freely available player Seattle should sign and run through his paces: Antonio Pittman. Some projected Pittman as a second round talent prior to the 2007 draft, but he fell to the fourth. He was drafted by New Orleans but cut as a rookie (in favor of Pierre Thomas.)
Pittman then signed with the Rams and played for St. Louis in 2007 and 2008. He was not great by any stretch, but no rusher succeeded for St. Louis in 2007 and 2008, and Pittman was not a standout failure by any stretch either. Runs by Pittman averaged 3.7 and 3.8 yards per carry to Steven Jackson's 4.2 and 4.1, or, to put it another way, runs by Pittman averaged -8.7% and -4.9% to Jackson's -7.4% and -2.5% DVOA in 2007 and 2008. Fairly comparable, and Pittman was not just a change of pace back. He had five starts in 2008. He played for a broken team and was not able to overcome his surrounding talent. Old story.
Seattle's interest in Pittman lies in not what he has done, but what kind of rusher he is and what he is capable of. Pittman is a one-cut rusher with good speed through the hole. He looks fluid rather than fast, and his speed doesn't flash approaching the hole or running away from defenders, but in a zone blocking scheme, it's all about the ability to explode through the crease, and Pittman excels at that ability. He is an inside rusher that can receive a little and pass block a little. Basically, he can play three downs if he needs to. I think that completeness is part of the allure of Jones. Seattle believes that if it had to, it could probably rely entirely on Jones as its running back. Pittman has feature back potential and is well suited for a one-cut and go rushing attack.
There is no free lunch in the NFL, and apart from a some minor struggles, if Pittman had no other warts he wouldn't be available. Like other backs that otherwise fit Seattle's system, Jeremiah Johnson and Chris Henry, for instance, Pittman would be stashed on another team's roster. He isn't. Pittman is a free agent and did not play organized football in 2009. He clashed with Jim Tressel at Ohio State and when it seemed like he might lose snaps to Beanie Wells, forwent his senior season and declared for the draft. He skipped practice after his 23 birthday (oh no) and was called out to be more productive by interim head coach Jim Haslett. A call to be "more productive" is always a meaningful expectation, and not at all a hasty attempt to command respect by an interim head coach. I would guess, reading the tea leaves, that Pittman is a "malcontent" that doesn't play well with authoritarian types. Again, oh. no.
Luckily, Camp Carroll provides a home for wayward talent that just wants to compete. I kid, but an open mind about second chances is perhaps the quality I most respect about Pete Carroll. Assuming Pittman hasn't gone to seed, he deserves a second chance. Given how well he fits the system, I think Pittman has better raw potential as a rusher than even Marshawn Lynch. Running back, seemingly above all other positions, produces surprise contributors every season. The reason seems clear to me: At best, we can understand how a running back interacts with his teammates. It's next to impossible to know purely how good the rusher himself is. Running back produces surprise contributors every season: Ryan Grant, Jamaal Charles, Cedric Benson, Ricky Williams, Michael Turner, Marion Barber, Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Forsett, Pierre Thomas and Ahmad Bradshaw; All mid-, late-round or undrafted players, or reclamation projects no longer with their drafted team, and nine of the top twenty running backs as ranked by DYAR. Rushers surprise, and I would love for the latest surprise to play for the Seahawks.