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Can Chris Carson steal the RB1 job from Rashaad Penny?

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Carson’s rookie season with the Seattle Seahawks was cut short at just four games last year, so we were yet to really get a good look at what Carson’s potential would have turned into based on an exciting training camp and preseason. Not that he didn’t perform in the regular season too: 208 yards total, 4.2 yards per carry, and seemingly playing as the best blocking back next to Russell Wilson.

No small credit in this offense.

In his last season at Oklahoma State, Carson averaged 6.8 Y/A and in nine games finished the season with 559 yards. It’s nothing in comparison to Rashaad Penny’s college numbers — in fact, Penny’s numbers are nearly double what Carson produced in his senior year — but let’s assume that Carson stays on that trajectory from last year. If he was able to play consistently from that four-game stint, including a broken tackle% better than any other back in the league including Alvin Kamara, then Carson would’ve been one of 2017’s best backs.

Now he’s seemingly the RB2 back, but Carson is also reportedly in peak condition. It wasn’t long ago that rookie running backs weren’t expected to be 1,000-yard players immediately; Shaun Alexander got 64 carries as a rookie backup to Ricky Watters in 2000. Admittedly that was 18 years ago, but the idea of easing a running back into the league is not ancient.

There’s still a learning curve for Penny. As training camp and the preseason kicks off, we’ll be able to get a better idea just what Carson 2.0 really looks like by comparison, as well as if he’s ready to compete with what Penny brings to the table.

Can he unseat the rookie who seemingly unseated him first after the Seahawks used a first round pick on Penny?

My short answer here is going to be “no.” I think when teams use their first-round pick on a running back, it’s because they fully intend to use him as much as possible. These are only four-year deals with a fifth-year option and Seattle knows that many running backs are not long for this profession. But Carson isn’t ready to let the job slip away from him that easily. He’s been putting on quite the show in OTAs and enough to have Pete Carroll give him a second look.

Carson spent most of last season on the IR with a horrifying leg injury that he suffered in early October. An injury that seems to have blessed Carson with a new outlook on his sophomore season:

“It makes you appreciate everything. Just being out on the sideline for how long I was, makes you appreciate everything...Makes you realize this game can be taken away at any moment so you enjoy it while the time you’re out there.”

Carson has put that new found appreciation to work. He tacked on another 10 lbs in the offseason and has been fantastic in OTAs. Carroll sounds excited at the promise of now having two running backs that are good enough to rip through opposing defenses.

“He’s absolutely full steam. He has just had a great offseason. He was really frustrated about not being able to finish up last year, and he put it to work. He did it. I’m excited to see how he goes. He’s going to play really good for us when we get back.”

Depth is always a good problem to have. Especially considering the rate that injuries tend to stack up in the NFL. The worst case scenario is always having that one key player go down early on, and derail the entire season.

Even if Carroll doesn’t use Carson for nearly as many snaps as Penny, Carson makes an excellent safety net in case the rookie can’t perform or if they want to keep both fresh for the next few years.