Following the retirement of Marshawn Lynch, coupled with the devastating ankle injury suffered by Thomas Rawls, almost everyone expected the Seattle Seahawks to draft a running back in the 2016 Draft and that's just what they did.
When Zac Brooks was announced in the seventh round to be the third running back selected in two days by the Seahawks, many were left scratching their heads. Who was this guy? Why did Seattle just drop a draft pick on a player that was a perennial bench-warmer for his entire college career? Maybe you clicked this link in hopes that you would have that very question answered for you...
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Brooks had a solid season as a backup in 2013, putting up 246 yards on 48 carries- a shade over five yards per carry. Many Clemson fans were excited over his potential and expected him to be the starter in 2014 but a foot injury and subsequent surgery put Brooks on the sidelines for the entire season and converted linebacker Wayne Gallman took charge as the lead rusher for the Tigers. Though he returned from his injury in 2015, Brooks was never able to wrestle any carries from Gallman, and was relegated to occasional relief duty.
As an anecdote from my childhood, I was a pretty sub-standard soccer player as a middle school kid. After being benched repeatedly in a city recreation league, my dad gave me one piece of advice: learn to do the small, extra things that the other players don't do. In this case, that meant throw-ins. I then made it well known to my coaches that I had some value to the team as someone who could get both decent distance and accuracy on my throw-ins, while never screwing up the technique. Though it did little to boost my playing time at the time, it was useful later in my high school career as it was an extra skill that I had a leg up on most other players my age.
Similarly, Brooks took his time on the pine to learn to be a hybrid receiver. He became a role player that could effectively play as either a running back or receiver. He became a go-to option as a receiver out of the backfield or a mismatch option against a linebacker in coverage. He actually had a significant role against Alabama in the national championship game, logging 4 catches for 39 yards while playing many more meaningful snaps on the biggest stage in college football.
Brooks is pretty good running back. He's fairly fast and somewhat elusive, at his best in open space. He's also got pretty decent strength in his lower body when fighting through contact and he's an okay receiver and option out of the backfield. All that to say, he's an okay football player with no glaring weaknesses, aside from that he also has no true strengths.
So, where does this leave him in the pros? I think he was drafted for one specific reason: to be hedge for C.J. Prosise. Both are expected to play that running back/receiver hybrid role. Prosise has much more upside, but at the cost of a more unconventional style. Brooks, on the other hand, is perfectly consistent and being fair. If Prosise absolutely flops after playing running back for only one year, then Brooks will be able to fill that role for the time being.
With his willingness to take on extra roles, coupled with his decent speed and prototypical body, I would also bet that Pete Carroll saw potential for Brooks to be a player who would willingly take on the mindset needed to become a special teams ace. If he can't make the team on his running skills alone, he will likely have the chance to prove his worth there.
Do I think Brooks makes the roster? No. His role will be redundant to Prosise, a much more talented prospect. I think he'll stay with the team throughout the preseason, but he will not make the final cuts to the 53-man roster. I am sure the coaches value his versatility though, and I would look for him to be one of the priority targets to keep on the practice squad.
That is if he makes it through waivers, which so few Seahawks rookies who get cut these days seem to do.