Let me do my best to cut off any attempts to say that I’m writing anything disparaging about J.D. McKissic in this piece. I’m not. Now that I’ve likely failed at that (certainly in at least the realm of twitter, where assumptions rule the day), let’s continue with why it would be surprising to see McKissic play any role of note this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
This week, the Seattle Seahawks activated McKissic to the active roster, giving him the spot previously occupied by wide receiver Keenan Reynolds. The improved health of Doug Baldwin made Reynolds an insurance plan that was too expensive for its actual presumed value, so the next logical step for Pete Carroll was to officially add back a player who has missed the last 12 weeks with a broken foot.
That means that for Carroll, McKissic had earned a place on the 53. We don’t even know if it means he’s earned a place on the gameday 46 though.
Last season, McKissic played in all 13 games after joining the team in Week 4 against the Indianapolis Colts. In his 2017 debut (he had one carry for two yards with the Seahawks in 2016), McKissic made plenty of noise by scoring two touchdowns in the final 17 minutes against the Colts, helping Seattle go from an 18-18 tie to a 46-18 victory. His first carry was a 30-yard touchdown. His next went for 10 yards. His next two went for -2 yards. And then the next and final play to go his way was a 27-yard touchdown catch.
These are McKissic’s highlights against the Colts and he only had a few more over the course of the season.
Again, not disparaging, just laying out the things that we’ve seen so far on the field from McKissic, and that included a 2017 season in which the Seahawks had perhaps the worst situation at running back in the league. In 2018, they have arguably the best.
In the final 12 games last year, McKissic had 42 carries for 149 yards, an average of 3.55. He caught 33 of 45 targets and one touchdown, an average of 5.31 yards per target. His 46 targets on the season resulted in that touchdown against the Colts, another touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles, an interception against the LA Rams, and 14 first downs. He had a 26-yard reception when trailing the Rams 27-0. He did also have a touchdown against the Eagles that opened the score to 24-10. The receiving area is definitely the part of McKissic’s game that matters here and the Seahawks have not incorporated many throws to backs as part of their offense.
Just 29 passes to Mike Davis, 13 to Chris Carson, and 12 to Rashaad Penny. Overall, they have 60 throws to running backs in 11 games, compared to an offense they faced last week: the Carolina Panthers have thrown 82 passes to Christian McCaffrey alone.
But it also just might not be what Seattle chooses to be. The Panthers offense isn’t that great (wasn’t great enough last week) and as far as emulating the New Orleans Saints, there’s zero reason to believe that McKissic is on the same level as Alvin Kamara. For one, Kamara can run it, and he has 150 times with 4.7 yards per carry. You don’t know what’s going to happen when Kamara is on the field.
When McKissic gets a snap on Sunday, assuming he’s even active, it’s more likely that he’s going to run out as a receiver than he is to accept a handoff.
That wasn’t as much the case in 2017, when he had 46 carries and 46 targets (still, a 1:1 ratio), but in 2018, why would the Seahawks give McKissic notable carries on an offense that includes Carson, Davis, and Penny? Carson has proven to be a legitimately good ball-carrier and the starter on this team. Davis has had a game as the starter (21 carries for 101 yards in Week 4) and many more in which he’s proven to be an effective backup who gets between four and 15 carries, plus he can be a receiver out of the backfield. Penny is the most talented of the trio, I think, and has averaged seven carries per game in the last four games.
Carroll has always spoke highly of McKissic and has said he’ll play this Sunday if all goes to plan in practice, but we’ll see if that holds true in a few days, and if it does, if it just includes a few snaps on offense and no touches. Or 1-2 touches. Or if he splits out as a wide receiver even though the team still has five of those (Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, David Moore, Jaron Brown, and Malik Turner, making it less likely that the team would keep him for those reasons). Or if he returns kickoffs, even though Seattle has remained fairly adamant that Lockett still has that job, or Penny, who was presumably drafted to contribute there as a rookie at times, and he does have eight returns.
And yes, C.J. Prosise is still on the roster too.
It’s fine to be excited about the return of McKissic to the roster, especially given that he gave us some of the rare highlights at the position in 2017, but when looking at it realistically and logically in 2018, with a three-headed attack at running back that’s working, five receivers ahead of him on the depth chart at that position, and filling a need that isn’t it a need at returner when he only has one career kickoff return anyway, where do you see him fitting?
Don’t just tell me how many snaps you think McKissic should get this week if he’s active, tell me what snaps you are taking away from Carson, Davis, and Penny to get him in there.
I predict it could be a couple, but with this team, you never really know for sure.