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Has C.J. Prosise been miscast?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Take a peek at any 53-man roster projection and you will see C.J. Prosise is often on the bubble. It’s anticipated he will make it. Indeed, the Seattle Seahawks may carry five running backs, but it’s also noticeable that Prosise is buried down the running back depth chart. He looks set to, at best, be the team’s third running back and a special teams contributor.

That’s a poor return on a third-round investment made a little over two years ago.

Prosise has never really progressed. He’s spent much of his time in the league banged up. When the Seahawks selected him out of Notre Dame, they expected his best years were ahead of him. Prosise played receiver with the Irish before converting to running back in his final year. He will be a mobile, moveable piece, one who is just scratching the surface of his potential as a runner, John Schneider and the front office thought.

There is a world in which Prosise is a crafty three-down weapon: a guy who can align right across the formation, from the backfield, to the slot, to split-out wide; where the Seahawks are able to dictate personnel groupings; where the team can hunt advantageous matchups, consistently getting quicker, shiftier guys matched up against linebackers in space. We just don’t happen to live in it.

The issues that impeded Prosise in college have never really been solved. He hasn’t developed as a runner: he has poor vision at the line of scrimmage; he slows his feet on contact, a cardinal sin; and he isn’t quite as twitchy in space as you would assume.

We’ve seen glimpses of what could be. Everyone remembers the game at New England in 2016. Prosise played well and the teamed used him creatively. He had a decent night running the ball and consistently won 1-on-1 battles down the field as a receiver.

The Seahawks opted for a heavy dose of condensed formations (receivers inside the numbers), forcing heavier ‘backers to cover Prosise out of the backfield. When Seattle moved Prosise out wide, it was via motion rather than out of the huddle, gifting Russell Wilson a coverage tell. If a linebacker followed him, it was man. If not, it was zone. Get a man-to-man look against a linebacker and it was game over:

In 2016, the team was happy to move him across the formation:

We haven’t seen enough of that since. Prosise hasn’t justified his value enough as a runner (4.8 yards per carry on 41 rushes, just 2.1 yards per carry last season) to be on the field consistently. He isn’t a good enough receiving threat to gazump the Seahawks’ top options out-wide or in the slot. His role – dictating matchups – only works if he’s viewed as a legit threat.

Darrell Bevell didn’t move Prosise as much in 2017. Brian Schottenheimer seems to be following that formula.

Prosise wound up being targeted what felt like a billion times against the Chargers in week three of the preseason. Almost everything, however, was a check-and-release out of the backfield, with Prosise eyeing any blitz, then leaking out of the backfield.

It’s been the same pattern all preseason. There has been the occasional run to the flat, with the odd wheel route here and there. Prosise has been forced into the scheme, not had concepts built around his skill-set.

Perhaps that’s fine. He may simply be miscast with this team and this coach at this time. But it feels like a waste of his traits. Why not use him on more option routes and vertical releases?

That’s the only real place he can add value. He’s never going to be a starter-caliber runner between the tackles. The word on Prosise is he doesn’t love contact. It shows up on film. You can’t run between the tackles with that mindset -- He finished 2017 with a mere 11 rushes, averaging 2.1 yards.

Things look even worse in pass protection. If you can’t block, don’t call for the rock. That’s how coaches think. Prosise has been a disaster in pass pro. He doesn’t play with a stable base. And he regularly seeks to get out the way, rather than steadying himself to absorb a blow.

No one’s asking him to be a protection star, but he has to offer something. He can’t get on the field otherwise. Angles and leverage are all that’s needed: cut a big guy if he needs cutting; shape another around the edge and win with your feet; find a way, anyway, to buy your quarterback time. That’s the name of the game.

Too often Prosise has been runover. His technique is godawful:

He can still be a threat out of the backfield if used correctly.

Christian McCaffrey is one of the smartest running backs I’ve ever evaluated. He is an option-route wizard. The Panthers did an excellent job during McCaffrey’s rookie season building in some of his favorite concepts. There were basic angle routes, isolating a middle of the field defender and letting the back go to work:

McCaffrey is at his best, though, on option-routes, where he reads the leverage of the defender and goes the opposite direction. Watch:

The Panthers poison of choice is McCaffrey’s favorite: an out-angle option concept.

McCaffrey hunts space. He presses out of the backfield vertically, matching up against an isolated linebacker. McCaffrey reads the linebacker: if he shoots towards the sideline, McCaffrey runs an angle route, planting and firing towards the goalpost. If the linebacker plays with inside technique, McCaffrey heads towards the sideline.

Prosise doesn’t have the same kind of wiggle as McCaffrey, but there’s no reason why the Seahawks can’t implement similar option concepts. Prosise has decent body control. His best glimpses for Seattle have come on wheel routes or double-moves, where he’s able to press a defender one way, then shift his weight and attack in a different direction:

At the very least, they need more vertical releases out of the backfield.

Vertical releases out of the backfield are the most en-vogue trend in the sport. You can’t turn on a game at any level these days without seeing a running back drift upfield on a seam route. It’s time for Seattle to jump in the game with both feet.

Sean McVay’s Rams ran one of the most well-crafted vertical packages last season. This one is a real doozy:

The Rams faked a power-read: sending a motion-man (fly motion) across the formation, with the backside guard wrapping around. The goal: get the strongside linebacker to bite on the fake and crash towards the line of scrimmage.

Next, they sent the tight end on a vertical release — a deep-over. The tight end pressed upfield before cutting towards the sideline, occupying the Mike linebacker and attacking a big chunk of grass. The running back followed in-behind. Gurley wheeled out and attacked the seam.

The Sam linebacker was left flat-footed. He was in a foot race with one of the quickest players on the field before he knew it; he was still reading the run and checking where the motion-man was about to end up. The quarterback had two guys wide-open. He hit Gurley in stride and the running back did the rest.

If you aren’t adding a bunch of RB-vertical concepts into your offense or running more route combinations with the back as the intended shot play, you’re a dinosaur.

Remember: Prosise is a former wide receiver. He understands the nuances of route concepts and reading the leverage of defenders in the open-field. Yet stick on a Seahawks game this preseason – or last season for that matter – and you see Prosise running the same old stuff the team would use with any back: dump-offs underneath, firing to the flat, and some quick-hitting out-cuts:

Why is Prosise not reading the leverage of the Chargers’ flat defender and zooming upfield? C’mon, Schottenheimer. Those are easy yards you’re gifting away.

Sometimes players are miscast. They’re not good or bad; the team isn’t right or wrong. If the Seahawks are going to keep Prosise around, they have to build in more vertical concepts. If they don’t, they may as well move him on. If they do, I bet there are a bunch of teams willing to overlook his inadequacies as a runner to get him on the field as a receiver.