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Seahawks-Chargers: All eyes on Chris Carson in Carson

NFL: Seattle Seahawks-Training Camp Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no question who the headline of Seahawks training camp has been in 2017, and that’s despite the distractions of Frank Clark and the unfortunate absence of Malik McDowell. This has been “The Summer of Chris Carson.”

Under Pete and John, the Seahawks have scrounged some value out of the draft’s last round, nabbing Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith in 2011, a starting guard in J.R. Sweezy in 2012, and a few games of Michael Bowie from the 2013 draft. That may not seem like much, but the seventh round is really just a fancy way of saying “Undrafted free agents we drafted.” Consider how many Hall of Famers have been drafted in the seventh round since 1970:

That’s it.

Go back to the year 2000 to present and the only multiple-nod Pro Bowlers are Jay Ratliff (Cowboys, four Pro Bowls) and Pat McAfee (Colts, two Pro Bowls as a punter). Outside of that you’ll find guys like Marques Coltson, Julian Edelman, Scott Wells, Justin Forsett, Cortland Finnegan, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Raheem Brock, Kurt Coleman, Kelvin Beachum, Ahmad Bradshaw, Stevie Johnson, Zach Strief, and Willie Young, but for the most part the seventh round provides a list of players teams can reasonably cut before September without worry and practice squad rotational guys.

Maybe Carson can also call himself a “seventh round exception” one day. Though his time on the field at Oklahoma State was short and his stat sheet was unimpressive, his tape was not.

Carson finished his college career with just 213 carries over two seasons, but he averaged 6.8 YPC last season and scored nine times on just 82 attempts. At the scouting combine, he compared favorably to Alvin Kamara, a third round pick by the Saints.

Kamara: 5’10, 214 lbs, 4.56, 14 reps, 39.5” vert, 131” broad

Carson: 6’, 218 lbs, 4.58, 23 reps, 37” vert, 130” broad

Kamara went four rounds higher than Carson despite the fact that he too had a short career at Tennessee: Kamara had 210 carries over two seasons, averaging 5.8 YPC last year with nine touchdowns on 103 rush attempts. Kamara was more prolific in the passing game (40 catches for 392 yards) but Carson is more than adept at catching the ball out of the backfield.

In camp, Carson has not only become a fan favorite, but Doug Baldwin singled him out as probably his favorite rookie so far, with exceptional skills for any first-year player that Doug has seen during his time in the NFL:

Russell Wilson isn’t going to argue with Doug, it seems.

Or Pete Carroll:

Oh, he can block too:

With Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, and C.J. Prosise all seemingly locked into roster spots should they remain healthy for the next four weeks (any report that Lacy could be cut for performance reasons should be dismissed), Carson is presumably in a competition with Alex Collins for the final spot. As John Gilbert noted here, Seattle keeps three or four running backs — never five. Sometimes they’ll have five if you include a fullback, but none of those guys are a fullback.

Many fans grew sour on Collins last season as he couldn’t step up when a star running back was needed, carrying it 10 times for 19 yards over his first eight games as a pro. In his final three regular season appearances though, Collins had 21 carries for 106 yards, averaging just over five yards per carry, also catching eight passes for 56 yards. Collins isn’t necessarily someone a team just discards willy nilly, and a rookie season isn’t usually enough to judge a player for what he will be over the course of his entire career.

It’s also too soon for us to judge if the Seahawks have a “running back over-load” problem this year. We’ve seen how quickly “five good running backs” can turn to one or none. For now, we can only sit back and watch over the next four games to see which running backs are still healthy by the time Seattle travels to Green Bay in Week 1, and monitor if Carson is still as exciting in a month from now as he has been over the last month. I have a feeling that he will be, because this has been more than just a good practice or two, but tempering expectations — especially with running backs — is never a bad idea.

Doesn’t mean I have to turn my eyes away from training camp’s brightest star tonight.