Troymaine Pope was one of the Seattle Seahawks’ stars of the preseason, flashing promise from week one to week four, before being cut and eventually claimed off of waivers by the New York Jets on Sunday. The loss of Pope was disappointing to many Seahawks fans — he was consistently one of the best and most exciting performers throughout the preseason, finishing the month of August with 162 yards rushing on just 24 carries – good for 6.8 yards a carry – and two touchdowns.
Starting with a game-winning two-point conversion in week one at Kansas City and ending with the game’s best run in week four at Oakland, Pope went from factory worker to an NFL running back fans were clamoring for in just a single month. So, despite being the brightest of bright spots on a surprisingly spry Seattle second – and third – team offense in August, why was Pope not part of the 53-man roster?
For starters, as an undrafted rookie free agent, of course he was always facing an uphill battle. Since Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived in Seattle, the team has kept an average of 4.2 running backs on the roster, and that’s including a fullback.
There was the established starter in Thomas Rawls who was guaranteed a roster spot. Then, there was The Awakened Christine Michael, who simply needed to show his return to the Seahawks last winter was not an anomaly, which he did and much, much more. Third-round pick C.J. Prosise was also a lock for the 53, although his role in the offense is different than any other ‘back the team had in training camp. That’s three spots down, one to go, and the team didn’t even keep a fullback around.
Rawls, Michael and Prosise are almost beside the point, however. They were always going to make the roster, but what about the fourth and final running back on the roster? Why did Alex Collins, he of a wildly average first three weeks in preseason, make the cut over Pope? It’s not like a fifth-round pick is too much of an investment to part ways with so soon (see: LeGree, Mark). Well, Collins began to answer that question Thursday night in Oakland. His best performance of the preseason came in the most meaningless game, but 40 yards and a touchdown were encouraging nonetheless.
It was close to being too-little-too-late, but a few of the runs Collins had in Oakland were the kind of runs that were the norm for him at Arkansas, and the type of runs that had me thinking he would have the preseason Pope ended up having. Collins has the body type and running style to mirror Thomas Rawls’ role in the offense if he were to go down again, whereas Pope is closer to a Christine Michael runner. If people wanted to anoint Rawls as “Baby Lynch” last year, here’s some exerts from my pre-draft notes on Collins that might bring up the same feelings:
“Impressive lateral quickness in tight areas, setting up defenders and making them miss with sudden stop/start ability.”
Sound like a player you might remember?
“Always keeps his legs moving on contact and initiates contact when met by a defender in the open field.”
Keeping legs moving? Initiating contact!?
”While not his biggest strength, Collins has the ability to breakaway in the open field when given the chance.”
This game was annoying as all hell, but hey:
”Touchdown numbers speak for themselves at ARK and Collins consistently showed a nose for the goal line inside his opponents five-yard line.”
Like you don’t already know.
After such a strong preseason, there was always going to be a risk in (presumably) trying to sneak Pope onto the practice squad, but it was a risk the team had good reason to feel comfortable in taking. Between 2012 and 2014 - before things got crazy in 2015 - the third running back in the Seahawks backfield has averaged 52.6 snaps per season. At that number, Troymaine Pope or Alex Collins’ contributions in 2016 were going to be negligible; if there’s going to be a reason for carrying a fourth running back, it’s going to be looking ahead to the future. And in that case, it’s Collins over Pope every time.