INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 26: Running back Chris Polk of Washington runs through a drill during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 26, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
I haven't really taken much of a stand on many players thus far in our pre-Draft coverage purely based on the fact that there are about a million variables to take into account when it comes to any player projected outside the top 15 or so (probably more like the top 8, even). It's not worth a whole lot to invest heavily emotionally in hoping this guy or that guy goes to the Seahawks in the first round, and especially in round two or three because of the sheer amount of scenarios that could play out. Hell, I still don't even really know who I want the Seahawks to take at #12, despite all the analysis we've done, Seahawks Draft Blog has done, the different outlets have done, Doug Farrar has done, Rob Rang has done, Greg Cosell has done.
Because of this, I've mainly gone about identifying players that might fit, might have some upside, and might be of interest to the Seahawks and then tried to provide some scouting on them, sharing both my thoughts and the thoughts of the experts on said players, for you to chew on mostly and to prepare you for the Draft and upcoming season.
That said, I must admit, in the case of Chris Polk, it's a bit different. I must admit, I really, really hope the Seahawks draft him, and it's not out of Husky homerism (mostly, anyway - though by default I know his game better than a lot of prospects). I'd go so far to say that I almost feel like Chris Polk in the third round would be a perfect pick for Seattle, in my mind. I probably won't be telling you anything different than most of you already know, but I'll try and explain why I think he's a great fit for this franchise.
First of all - I wouldn't be sad, necessarily, to see Polk get snatched up in the 2nd round, but a more ideal, albeit realistic scenario would be to see him get chosen with the Hawks' 3rd round pick. To get a player like Polk in the third round - which is about where he's being projected at the moment following a less than stellar offseason and All-star game/Combine circuit, - would be tremendous value. I think it could be expected that's about where he'll fall to if you compare to recent years.
Last year - the first running back off the board, Mark Ingram, wasn't taken until 28th overall. Ryan Williams was next off the board at 38th overall - the 6th pick in the 2nd, and was followed by Shane Vereen, Mikel Leshore, and Daniel Thomas towards the end of that round (24th, 25th, and 30th). Demarco Murray and Steven Ridley were selected in the third round, 7th and 9th, and then Alexander Green went to the Packers with the 32nd pick of that round (96th overall). Roy Helu and Kendall Hunter were picked in the fourth round, 8th and 18th.
This year, I'd expect similar results, save for Trent Richardson likely not making it out of the top-6. I wouldn't be surprised if Richardson is the only running back taken in the first round, with only Doug Martin in on the conversation for the first night's action. In round two, things will get interesting in the running back group.
Mike Mayock's top five running backs are Richardson, Martin, David Wilson, Lamar Miller, then LaMichael James, in that order. NFLDraftScout.com has Isaiah Pead and Chris Polk ahead of James. SI.com's Tony Pauline has Polk as his fifteenth-ranked running back. Fifteenth!! Russ Lande ranked Polk recently as his 38th overall prospect for the Draft. So, let's just say there's no real way of knowing exactly where he'll go, but it's not out of the realm of possibility he'll be there at the 12th pick of the 3rd round. If he makes it there, I hope the Seahawks run to the podium to select him.
Polk blends a lot of the things I think the Seahawks really want from a running back. He's tough between the tackles, and isn't afraid to lower his pads to take on a linebacker. He's patient behind the line, displays excellent vision to pick the correct crease, then hits it hard. Much of the success in his college career has been behind less-than-stellar players. No Husky linemen has been draft since 2006. We're not talking Wisconsin here. In my mind, this production despite a less than elite line means he's elusive, smart, and as anyone that's watched him play can attest to, he can break a ton of tackles.
This initial description meshes well with the zone, power scheme the Seahawks have been running and want to continue to heavily feature. It means patience behind the line, working off your blockers, finding the crease and slipping through for tough yards.
What Polk lacks in high-octane break away speed - though I certainly don't think he's slow and at times I see an explosive element to his game - he makes up for with toughness and a ridiculous ability to stay on his feet. I just picture that he's got an internal gyroscope that keeps him upright despite ping-ponging back and forth, spinning and churning through a crowd. Watch the tape, it shows up a lot.
In many ways, and I know this might be taken negatively by some here in Seattle and nationally because he's certainly not proven himself at the pro level, but Chris Polk actually kind of reminds me of a bizarro Golden Tate. As has been well publicized, Tate made the switch from High School running back to college receiver and a result of this showed an uncanny ability to make plays with the ball in his hand. He never learned to refine his route running at Notre Dame but nonetheless was extremely productive because he's shifty, strong, elusive, and has what I like to refer to as 'otherworldly' balance. How Tate spin-moves, tip toes the sideline, and breaks a tackle in one fluid motion is hard to grasp. It's why the Seahawks liked him so much.
On the other hand, Polk transitioned as a highly-rated all-purpose WR/RB in High School to a running back in college, but retained the excellent route running skills and very soft hands of a receiver. As Rotoworld's Josh Norris wrote in a scouting report, "Polk has reliable hands at every level and runs routes with more strength than many wideouts, staying on his line while absorbing physical defensive backs from the slot or the backfield." As ex-NFL front office exec Tony Softli put it, "[Polk] has excellent receiving skills with soft hands to catch outside his frame with good RAC (run after catch) production."
How many times have we seen Polk run the wheel route up the sideline for an over-the-top touchdown pass for the Huskies? How many times have we seen him run up the seam and catch an over the shoulder bomb? It's his ability to run strong routes and catch the tough passes that has allowed Steve Sarkisian to use him on every down over the past four seasons and that's not something you'll see with some of the running backs in this class. Lamar Miller, David Wilson - these guys weren't really used a whole lot in the passing game and don't project to be impact players in that regard. Polk's pass protection abilities have been called into question but among all necessary skills for a three-down running back, that's the most eminently coachable attribute. They always say you can't coach speed, but it's also a truism that you can't teach a guy to not have rocks for hands.
It's not something measurable, but when you watch Chris Polk, he looks comfortable anywhere on the field, whether it's running between the tackles, breaking it outside, receiving dump off passes, or running a corner route to catch a touchdown pass. His receiving ability doesn't define him - I really do see a strong, balanced, patient, and at times explosive runner - but his ability in the passing game sets him apart and is a big part of the reason I like him for the Seahawks.
We did some charting here at Field Gulls last year of the Seahawks and their offensive formations, but it wasn't so detailed as to offer how often they motioned a running back to the wing or simply started with Lynch or Leon on the line with an empty backfield. Still, I'd guess it happens fairly often, and at times on third down, much to our collective chagrin. It's a way to spread the defense out, create favorable matchups, hide your plans - what have you.
The way the Seahawks run their offense, for the reasons stated above, they like to use their quarterback as an extension of the run game and their running backs as an extension of the passing game. Factor in their heavy use of tight ends and the predictability of run/pass play calling becomes very muddled, which is exactly what they want. The Seahawks used, and will likely continue to use '21' and '22' formations a great deal in their quest for stability and continuity in their run game.
This means, whether it's Zach Miller, Anthony McCoy, Michael Robinson, Marshawn Lynch, - your tight ends and running backs need to be proficient in both worlds - running or run blocking and route running and pass catching. It's not a coincidence, in my mind, that the Seahawks have shown such an interest in H-backs and athletic tight ends this year and in the past two years. It's why they openly stated a desire to re-sign John Carlson and have attacked that position since he left. Versatility versatility versatility. Scheme transcendent.
Seahawks running backs caught 71 passes this year, much lower than what I believe they'd like - with Marshawn Lynch leading the way with merely 28 receptions. Many people, including me, wondered why the Seahawks went out and signed a guy like Kregg Lumpkin and the simplest reason I can think of is that he's reliable as a pass catching running back. Lumpkin caught 41 passes last year in limited action, which only strengthens the belief I have that the Seahawks want their running backs to be much more heavily featured in the passing game, on any and every down. It takes pressure off the quarterback and adds a dimension to the offense that the opposing defense has to account for on every play.
Take the San Diego Chargers - in many ways they're dissimilar to the Seahawks and that can probably mostly be attributed to one guy - Philip Rivers. Otherwise, they actually have a sort of similar offensive approach to the that of the Seahawks. Big, tall receivers, a strong run game, use of play action and surgical strikes downfield. Though the Chargers have Rivers, they've invested heavily at the running back position and want balance on that side of the football, much like the Seahawks. Even in the Chargers version of the Air Coryell offense, Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert combined for 104 receptions and nearly 1000 yards through the air in addition to their production on the ground. I don't doubt that the Seahawks lust after this type of output from their backfield.
Regardless, like I said - this isn't Chris Polk's defining feature, but in my mind it's what sets him apart from the other guys in his range. He's still going to be that tough runner that the Seahawks have shown an interest for. He'll be good in a zone-blocking scheme because he's patient and breaks a lot of tackles.
I want to go back to the scouting reports by Softli and Norris, because if anything, they essentially see the same things I do with regards to Polk but are better at putting it in writing. Softli, who has Polk rated as a second round talent, said the following:
Former wide receiver moved to running back when entering Washington, quickly developed into a slashing upright high knee runner with explosion, balance and power with big-time production as a runner and receiver. Aligns in single-back formation and offset with good initial burst with vision to press LOS (line of scrimmage) to bounce and hit edge. Good feet and cutting ability to create space in tight and open field to gear down with restart and good suddenness, and no wasted movement moving north and south.
An inside runner with vision to backside cut, skip and skate cutting ability. An explosive runner to lower pad level and explode through defender approach with second effort to fight for extra yards, runs with a purpose. A competitive, aggressive runner to break arm tackles and run over defenders with very good YAC (yards after contact) production with leg pump and drive to finish. Has a high knee stride in open space forcing defenders to chase with deceptive speed. Good job to switch ball on defender pressure in space with effective stiff arm. Very effective and competitive lead blocker (2010 quarterback draw), but will need further NFL tutelage on pass protection and blitz recognition, was inconsistent at the Senior Bowl on blocking not because of effort, but technique.
Norris, similarly, noted:
Richardson and Martin included, Polk possesses the best combination of patience and vision in this class. His comfort behind linemen is evident, as he hesitates in soft areas while weaving and gliding between lanes. This forces defenders off their angles, always adjusting to Polk's movements. Despite his smooth style, Polk can deliver pop, bulling through second-level tackles or in the open field. He has a power back's mentality in short yardage, keeping his eyes up to find slivers of space.
Polk effectively maintains distance from defenders on long runs, rarely getting caught from behind and frequently cutting runs back inside for extra yards. He excels alongside the quarterback in the shotgun formation, with seamless cuts on draws or as an in-space receiver. Polk has reliable hands at every level and runs routes with more strength than many wideouts, staying on his line while absorbing physical defensive backs from the slot or the backfield. Even for his one-speed game, Polk breaks plenty of arm tackles while keeping a strong base and consistently falling forward.
Patience, toughness, fluidity, ability to lead block, catch out of the backfield. I was chatting with Seahawks Draft Blog's Kip Earlywine the other day about Polk, and I mentioned to him that in many ways, the former Husky reminds me of ex-Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr. It in turn, inspired me to writer this article.
Helu was another guy that I had the opportunity to watch a lot of in college and whom I was very high on going into last year's draft. Helu will be remembered by many Seahawks fans for hurtling Roy Lewis on his way to a 28-yard touchdown last year, but on the season he made his pay with the above mentioned attributes. He paired with Rex Burkhead at Nebraska as a two-headed running back monster, sometimes lead blocking, sometimes rushing, and after getting drafted in the fourth round, did enough in his rookie season to earn the starting job in Washington's Shanahan zone-blocking scheme. If you're looking for a comparison to a current NFL player, Helu might be one to take a look at, though that's just my opinion.
Anyway, I'm rambling, so check out the scouting vids on Polk below, brought to us as always by DraftBreakdown.com, and then check out the pre-Combine look at Polk and his offseason training - it's pretty interesting.