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Thomas Rawls is playing as well as he ever has

Carolina Panthers v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

After his unbelievable rookie season was cut short by a devastating ankle injury, the return of Thomas Rawls to the Seattle Seahawks was closely monitored by the entire football world. Was his phenomenal first year a fluke? Could he, in 2016, return to his prior level of dominance.

Another injury sidelined the sophomore for weeks on end before finally returning a couple of weeks ago. While he showed flashes of his former self, the consistency wasn’t there. The cuts weren’t as decisive and he wasn’t running with the fire that he showcased for the majority of 2015.

Sunday night, against the Carolina Panthers, was a well-received wake-up call to the entire NFL that Mr. Rawls is back. Pete Carroll stated that this had been Rawls’ best week of practice of the season and it showed on a consistent basis against Carolina.

On 16 touches, Rawls amassed 118 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which occurring with 6:47 left in the first period:

Rawls receives the handoff out of an offset i-formation. George Fant and Mark Glowinski both successfully block their men down while Doug Baldwin engages a nearby defensive back. Shaq Thompson shoots a gap and has a clear path to taking down Rawls in the backfield. The tailback immediately cuts to his left before sprinting and hurdling into the end zone gracefully for six points.

The quickness and decisiveness of the cut that led to the score leads me to believe that Rawls is running with the most confidence he has all season. His second score only reinforced this notion:

Rawls receives the handoff out of a deep singleback formation. Justin Britt and Bradley Sowell clear a nice hole to the right side while Germain Ifedi slips to the second level and drives his man into the ground. Rawls exhibits great vision as he fluidly cuts to the right side, reading his blocks perfectly. Tyler Lockett’s block on the outside is what allows Rawls to take the ball to the house, but the ability to see and quickly hit the holes opened up for him are what have been missing from the young back’s game all season.

With Earl Thomas likely going down for the rest of the season, it is imperative for the offense to pick up the slack for a defense that has no hope of being the same. This isn’t to say that Seattle will need to win shootouts on a regular basis. The offense must, though, be able to consistently carry out and finish long scoring drives. The re-emergence of Rawls as a feature back assists in that endeavor greatly.

When he is healthy and given even a sliver of reliable blocking, there is no doubt in my mind that Thomas Rawls is one of the five best running backs in the league. Moving forward, his addition to this Seahawks offense as a versatile chess piece makes an already (inconsistently but undeniably) potent offense that much better.

Rawls is the type of punishing back that is built to make life a mess for opposing defenses in January. If Sunday was just a preview of what is yet to come, the NFC should be pretty worried.