Friday night found me at Scotty Browns with some friends, keeping one eye on the Blazers game and the other on Day 2 of the NFL draft. When Seattle made their selection at pick #90, I apparently "startled all the customers" and needed to "calm down" and "stop running laps around the restaurant giving high-fives to everybody". Well, Karen, I'm gonna need you to calm up, because the Seahawks just drafted one of my favorite players in college football.
It's important, before we get too far into this, that I acknowledge I am the worst sort of college football fan. Yep, I root for Notre Dame, which is like cheering for the Yankees, or Wal-Mart. What can I say? "Rudy" was awesome and I was impressionable. Anyhow, even as an unbearable Fighting Irish honk, I didn't know much about CJ Prosise when the season started, outside of a couple big plays the previous year. Tarean Folston was coming off a nice season and had the starting tailback spot locked up. Prosise, meanwhile, was a wide receiver who converted to running back, presumably to add depth at a lean position, even after notching 516 receiving yards at 17.8 yards/catch clip in 2014.
Then Folston's season was truncated three carries into his first game, and the inexperienced, untrained Prosise was shoved into the deep end of the pool before he had time to put on his water wings. His response was simply to log 104 yards from scrimmage on 21 touches in a rout of Texas. It was no fluke either, as CJ picked up 175 more on 20 touches against Virginia the very next week. In fact, Prosise carried the ball 143 times over his first eight games, adding 23 catches for good measure before a concussion and an ankle injury ended his campaign early. He'd finish 1,032 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns at a jaw-dropping 6.6 YPC, with another 308 yards and TD coming through the air.
So how'd he do it? Well, at 6', 220 lbs Prosise has the build to get low and deliver the boom, and as many of his highlights showcase, he is adept at leveraging his mass into tacklers so that even when he goes down, he's falling forward. It's a great quality in its own right, but that's not what sets Prosise apart. Rather, it's his ability to launch himself through space and into the secondary and tertiary levels of the defense, to cut without losing forward momentum and with the strength to run through arm tackles even while changing direction.
Check out the first 1:10 or so of this video against USC:
The first jaunt showcases a little hesitation move that freezes the Trojans' contain man just long enough for Prosise's lead blocker to set the edge. It's an instinctual play and one that should translate well to Tom Cable's fabled zone-blocking scheme. The second highlights that run-finishing power I alluded to earlier. The third run is simply a matter of Prosise seeing a lane and charging through it, gathering force with each step as he wins the race to the pylon. Some of you, I'm sure, will say "yeah that's great, but look at how much room his blockers gave him." And while I'll certainly grant you that, it's one thing to turn those big gaps into 10-15 yard gains, but another thing entirely to extend them into field-flipping, game-tilting chunks. Also, there's THIS, which is fun.
The great thing is, for all of his open-field prowess, Prosise showed a knack for finishing runs near the goal line, something that the 'Hawks, despite their reputation, haven't been great at. Check out this short, elusive plunge against Navy:
This scamper shows a willingness to let the play develop, terrific spatial awareness in a crowd, and the confidence in his agility to make sure that ball got across the plane. He had a similar TD against USC, where he beats the crashing linebacker to the hole, escapes an arm tackle, vaporizes the safety with a spin move, and trucks that poor cornerback into the endzone. It's the type of run that ticks all the boxes you like to see in a ball carrier. Check it:
Prosise shows off a nice spin move and some power on this TD run. pic.twitter.com/ae1PNrKd2S— Eric Elizondo (@EricElizondo8) February 21, 2016
If there was one game where Procise was stymied on the ground it was, perhaps forgivably, on the road in the mud against the #1 defense in the nation. Prosise was held to 50 yards on 15 carries against Clemson that night, so what'd he do? Oh, just gain 100 more through the air, including this athletic bomb. Given his success as a rusher, it was easy to forget his prowess in the receiving game, as he posted an impressive 11.8 yards/catch out of the backfield in 2015.
Some running backs can diagnose a run, others can apply the treatment, but Prosise is one of those special backfield physicians that can do both. Oh yeah, and this doctor makes house calls:
There is no replacing Marshawn Lynch, not with Thomas Rawls, not with Christine Michael, not with Prosise; and I think the Seahawks know that. There's no one available in this or any other draft that's a suitable substitute for the iron-skinned crocodile with dreads that's carried the Seattle run game for the better part of six years. And while the case can be made that no running back has been better in the first 20 yards than Marshawn, Prosise can do one thing Lynch never could- turn that second-level shimmy into a field-length footrace. Lynch rarely hit long on long TD runs and when he did, he basically had to break tackles for 80 consecutive, exhausting yards. But that weapon we saw from Rawls last year, the ability to make a tackler miss and accelerate away from the pack, is a skill that Prosise offers as well.
For as reliant on the run as the Seahawks have been since Carroll's arrival, the absence of Lynch is forcing a shift in what's to be expected from the next wave of Seahawks backs. Lynch was excruciatingly patient and used his weird, lazy-eyed iguana vision to find slivers of space as the chaos unfolded before him. Rawls, and I believe Prosise, sprint through the handoff with the intent of getting to the second level before the O-linemen have a chance to lose their blocks.
This is the new model: speed, power, and the threat of hitting a long home run that keeps the safeties from creeping up too close to the line. It means opposing front sevens have just a fraction less time to diagnose the play and slip off their blocks. Rawls runs with urgency on every carry. Prosise has the tools to be a thoroughly explosive back but has yet to translate that into down-to-down consistency, often choosing to bounce outside instead of planting his foot and driving upfield. That said, Notre Dame used him on jet sweeps with some frequency and he turned a number of them into big plays with his ability to beat tacklers to the edge. It will take some time to learn when to dance and when to drive in the NFL, and I think he'll find out very quickly that the latter is preferable nine times out of ten.
There are some legit concerns with Prosise, and he is by no means a can't-miss running back (who is, anymore?). Among them is the ever-crucial ball security. Prosise isn't careless with the football per say, but he did have it knocked away from him after being wrapped a up a few times. All told, Prosise fumbled the ball a semi-alarming five times in 182 touches, a rate that will need to be culled considerably if he's to see Pete Carroll's field with any regularity. Additionally, some scouts have pointed out his inconsistency in recognizing pass protections, although I'll admit that I didn't see a whole lot of that when going back through his canon of plays. After all, there are reasons 89 players were selected before CJ Prosise but it's worth remembering that only three of them were running backs.
So how does he fit? Well, the great news is that Thomas Rawls not only exists but that he exists as a Seahawk. Prosise won't be asked to carry the proverbial load in the Seattle backfield, profiling more as a third down back whose hands and electricity in space make him a threat worth paying attention to. Carroll mentioned as much after the draft, calling Prosise "a very, very unique player" adding "I love talking about him," before envisioning ways to get him on the field. "He's going to do things that he's really good at and then we're going to expand his role as he can handle it," adding "There's no reason he can't be a first down back, too. We just know what we're going to attempt to do with him on third down." It's an endorsement that speaks not only to CJ's complimentary abilities as a slasher and pass catcher, but hints at an every-down ceiling as well.
You get the sense that Carroll and Co. see their new backfield toy as a multi-faceted weapon but as the coach said in his call to Prosise on draft day, "You ain't a receiver, you're a running back. You're a running back but you're gonna catch the ball too now, that's the whole point." Picture Duke Johnson, except bigger, and with much less mileage on his tires.
There's no guarantee that Prosise transitions to the NFL as well as Schneider, Carroll, I, or any of this other fans think he will. After all, Seattle has yet to draft a running back under PCJS that has anything resembling consistent production at the pro level, despite using a second round pick on Michael and a fourth on Robert Turbin. That being said, neither of them put up the type of production against top talent the way Prosise did and the low number of collegiate touches should mean there's plenty of tread left on his tires.
Ultimately, we won't know anything until we see how he handles the NFL speed/talent/grind, but there's no reason not to be hyped up about adding a 220 lb tailback with 4.48 speed who can do this to the mix. With Rawls, Michael, and now Procise, Alex Collins, and Zac Brooks on the roster, the next generation of Seahawks running backs look to be more diverse and explosive than ever before, and the sheer breadth of ability should keep them all from overuse. Every arsenal needs special weapons, and by drafting CJ Prosise, Seattle just got one.
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