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Yes, the Seahawks need to invest in the running back position (just not heavily)

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Whenever “running backs” are brought up among Seattle Seahawks fans — Seahawks Twitter in particular — it gets a little bit heated. Do running backs matter? Should they even be classified as people? If an NFL team drafts a running back in round one, should they be subject to heavy ridicule for the rest of time?

These are all outstanding questions I’ve made up, and “yes” is the answer to all of them. I should note that while I am very much in favor of pass-first offenses—passing has far more value than rushing and that’s not deniable—I am not anti-run. Consider me anti-establishment of the run. I’m against running on 2nd and 10, or jamming running backs into fronts that are at least 95% likely to win just on numbers alone. Running for the sake of keeping “balance” is also complete bunk to me — you stick with what’s working until the other team can stop it, and that’s whether you’re the Kansas City Chiefs’ dynamic passing game or the San Francisco 49ers’ rushing attack this past postseason.

Yes, running back is the most replaceable skill position in football, which is why someone like Jonas Gray can have a 200-yard, four-touchdown performance and never be heard from again. But the relative ease of interchangeability should not erase the concept of running back talent and skills. You don’t need analytics to see what separates the all-time greats from the averageness (not a word? It is now!) of Julius Jones. The odds that a replacement-level back could come close to replicating the production of Barry Sanders, a prime Adrian Peterson, or prime Marshawn Lynch are slim and none. Their relative draft value in modern NFL is a different story altogether, as I believe you need to be an elite dual-threat (Christian McCaffrey, basically) to be deemed a justifiable high first-round pick as a running back.

Now that I’ve given you three paragraphs that have utterly nothing to do with the headline I wrote, let’s get on track with what I intended to write. The serious injuries suffered by Seahawks running backs in 2019 turned what looked to be a stable position into somewhat of a need this offseason.

Chris Carson should be ready for Week 1, but his long-term durability is a legitimate question mark. He missed most of 2017 with an ankle injury, missed a couple of games in 2018 with nagging injuries, and cracked his hip in Week 16 of 2019. In high school he tore his ACL and in his final year at Oklahoma State he missed five more games. His health was a question mark that partially led to his seventh-round selection, and those issues haven’t gone away in the pros.

Then there’s Rashaad Penny, who had no durability question marks in college but was injured in preseason as a rookie and ended 2019 with a torn ACL that required some extra work in surgery. There’s a distinct possibility that he’ll be on the PUP list and won’t be back for the start of the regular season.

C.J. Prosise is an unrestricted free agent whom otherwise has no future with the Seahawks. He has ended literally every season of his career on IR, and at some point the hanging on to his few highlights from 2016 should be done.

Marshawn Lynch was signed in emergency after those aforementioned three went down in December. He scored four touchdowns in three games and I am delighted to have witnessed that happen. The fan in me expects Marshawn to re-sign with Seattle and turn into Vintage Beast. Realistically? He’s either retiring for good or if he does stay with the Seahawks he’ll look like a real shell of himself.

That leaves you with Travis Homer, the literal only 2019 Seahawks running back guaranteed to be on the 2020 roster without any injury concerns. He had 18 carries for 114 yards in the regular season but 29 of those came on the fake punt against the Minnesota Vikings. In the playoffs, albeit behind a patchwork offensive line, he had 14 carries for 25 yards and a fumble. There looks to be some value for Homer in the passing game and as a pass protector, but it’s a limited sample size.

Are you sure you want to enter Week 1, 2020 with a rotation of Chris Carson, Travis Homer, and a third player to be determined? I thought so, and Pete Carroll is unlikely to watch this situation unfold and do nothing about it.

It is inevitable that the Seahawks are going to look for running backs in the draft, UDFA, and possibly in free agency. All I ask is that they don’t do either of the following:

  • Waste an early draft pick on a running back. They already caught enough flak for the Penny pick and frankly if Penny never pans out for whatever reason, it looks even worse in hindsight. There is no good reason to have any day one or day two pick used on a running back, especially not when both the offensive and defensive lines are much more pressing.
  • Splurge on someone like Derrick Henry. I’d be shocked if they did this, but Henry is the biggest name on the market in terms of FA RBs so he’s just the easy example. Ezekiel Elliott is the highest paid on a per year basis at $15 million, so Henry probably will want Elliott money. There is no damn reason for the Seahawks to entertain paying top dollar here. Hell, I’m not interested in paying Melvin Gordon money, especially not for Melvin Gordon.

You can get quality running backs anywhere in the draft, and you can sign capable free agents at inexpensive prices. Seattle does not need a future star at the position, but the way last season unfolded has tipped the scales towards needing depth with Carson and Penny coming off major injuries. We can only hope that John Schneider and Pete Carroll don’t go overboard in the team’s never-ending quest to “establish the run.”