As usual, it will be anyone’s best guess as to which direction the Seahawks will go at the top of this year’s draft. Either side of the line of scrimmage could logically be addressed, likely after their annual trade down. However, one spot we can say with a reasonable level of certainty will be addressed is running back. It’s a position they’ve selected 10 times in 10 years, and this year it is a need—not a massive need, but a need nonetheless. A tailback on day one or two likely means Chris Carson isn’t an extension candidate; day three should be expected regardless, however.
Seattle will have options to choose from on all three days—who would be the ideal target from Thursday through Saturday?
Day 1: Cam Akers
(Full disclosure: This year's draft only has one clear cut first round running back: Jonathan Taylor. However, he's been discussed ad nauseam, so for day one in this exercise we're going to bump up one of the several exciting tailbacks who should go early on day two.)
The Florida State tailback is one of the most entertaining runners in the entire draft, and as a traditional three-down back, he slots in just behind Jonathan Taylor. A defined 5-foot-10 and 217 pounds, Akers has a similar body type—and running style—to two recent draft picks who exploded onto the scene: Chris Carson and Aaron Jones.
Akers possesses a handful of traits that will appeal to the Seahawks. He’s tough as hell, drives his feet on contact, has excellent vision inside and outside the tackles, and has a penchant for big plays. A glaring knock against him, however, is ball security. Akers had the fourth-highest fumble rate among all tailbacks invited to the Scouting Combine. It is not a non-starter for Seattle’s evaluation of running backs, but it won’t help his case.
Overall, Akers is a thrilling offensive player and someone who would immediately inject big-play ability into the Seahawks’ offense. Not only would he be a seamless addition to the tailback stable on all three downs, but he would be a long-term starter if/when Carson departs Seattle.
Day 2: A.J. Dillon
One of the best performers from the combine, the former Boston College runner tested in the 96th percentile at 247(!) pounds while posting the top vertical and broad jump among running backs on the Seahawks Draft Board. Dillon is a more physical, tougher runner than similarly massive tailbacks that came before him, (i.e., Brandon Jacobs), and would be a seamless fit into Seattle’s offense as an early-down back. In terms of first- and second-level burst and physicality, he is similar to Carson—though slightly less destructive on contact.
Dillon is unlikely to develop into a three-down back, but as a duo with Rashaad Penny, Dillon would pair brilliantly. Their skill sets compliment one another well, and both players would benefit from lessened workloads. As evaluators, Pete Carroll and John Schneider love explosive athletes and freaky body types; A.J. Dillon is both.
Day 3: Javon Leake
We’ll go in a different direction on day three. Instead of focusing on tailbacks who fit the Seahawks’ mold of size and explosiveness, let’s look for a player with big play ability and a high-ceiling. Maryland’s Leake is that player.
On the surface, Leake is a fantastic type of prospect to use a day three pick on. He is entering the NFL with little workload—he averaged 51.6 touches per season—and could be the latest in a line of tailbacks to be better pros than college players (i.e., Alvin Kamara). Though he is nothing like Seattle’s usual runners—it’s wild that he weighed in at 215 pounds at the combine—he would offer a great change of pace. He can plant his foot and turn the corner on outside runs in a similar way to Penny and Travis Homer, but when he’s on the field on offense, the Seahawks should be looking to get him into space, be it on a route against a linebacker or slip him out on screens.
A crucial piece of Leake’s upside, and potential fit with Seattle, is his history as a returner. He handled duties for the Terrapins, averaging almost 27 yards per kick return in his final season. Tyler Lockett is too valuable to continue handling return duties full-time; Leake could take over completely.
Though they do need to add a player to the group, the Seahawks are in a good position at running back. Carson, while not without health questions, is one of the finest pure runners in the sport. Homer projects as a high-upside third down back for the foreseeable future. Penny, when he returns, is an explosive play waiting to happen when he gets the ball in space. Seattle would be wise to duplicate both Carson and Homer’s skillsets before camp; should they look to do so in the draft, they’ll have plenty of options.