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Position Group Preview: Depth and balance at running back

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Seahawks’ running backs will be a focal point of the roster for as long as Pete Carroll is the team’s head coach, such is their involvement in the highs and lows. The good days will see the lead back and even his understudy find the open field with ease against a defense occupied by the fear of Russell Wilson picking them apart. The bad days often come at the end of the season, when an injury-riddled group is still depended upon to a maddening result.

As has been the case in recent years, health will be a question mark looming over the running back group in 2020. When healthy, however, they are as balanced, talented, and deep as ever.

Expected group

There won’t be much drama at all ahead of the regular season here, with Chris Carson, Carlos Hyde, Travis Homer, and DeeJay Dallas all more-or-less locked into the 53-man roster.

Dark horse

The dark horse here is also one of the biggest x-factors on the roster. Rashaad Penny’s knee injury will likely see him begin the year on the PUP list. It could all-but wipe out his 2020 season completely. However, he could end up reemerging in the second half of the season and, if healthy, could prove to be a major spark. With Carson and Hyde slotted in as early-down backs, Penny could return as an offensive weapon, enabling Seattle to scheme him into space and allow him to create—which is what he does best.

Reason for optimism

The presence of Hyde on the Seahawks’ roster is a big part of the “deep” label the position group has been given here. For the past two seasons, Penny has served as Carson’s backup. While he is a talented runner and a capable starter, it led to far too many ugly, awkward carries for him, shoehorned into a between-the-tackles role he isn’t suited for. In 10 of Penny’s 23 career games (excluding last year’s Week 14 game that saw him injured on his first snap), he has had fewer than 10 carries resulting in less than 20 yards. Those are the result of not being treated like a dynamic talent, but rather someone needed to spell Carson. That isn’t Penny.

That is, however, Hyde. In the veteran Hyde, Seattle has a tailback who can not only help to spell Carson but replicate his role. In 2019, three tailbacks had over 120 carries between the tackles: Ezekiel Elliott, Carson, and Hyde. Of the three, it was Hyde (4.4) with the highest yards per carry. Penny, meanwhile, totaled 30 carries between the tackles in 2019 at a yards per carry (3.8) that was nearly two full yards below his total (5.7).

Carson and Hyde will provide the Seahawks’ with a natural 1-2, and should Carson again struggle with ball security, Hyde is a player who can feature as a lead back when needed.

Where it could go wrong

Often the story with physical, punishing runners, health is a question mark for Carson and Hyde. Carson’s habit of seeking out contact, whether it’s needed or not, has seen his durability take knocks during his career. Twice he has ended the year on injured reserve, including a brutal hip injury just seven months ago.

Similarly, Hyde is often carrying injuries, playing 16 games only twice in his career. Though 2019 was one of those seasons, he played through a torn labrum that required surgery after the season.

With two bruising runners handling the early-down duties, Seattle could face a late-season situation in which they are without Carson and Hyde, again putting Homer into a role too large or Dallas into a role he isn’t yet prepared for. If injuries don’t arise for this group, however, the Seahawks should feel confident in the quartet they’ve assembled.


Both Carson and Hyde excel in the role that will be asked of them and will offer Seattle as balanced of a 1-2 punch as they have had since the brief Marshawn Lynch-Thomas Rawls partnership. For Carson, only ball security and health will stop him from hitting free agency as one of the best pure runners in the sport.

On passing downs, Homer has already proved to be a well-rounded back, intelligent as a checkdown option, a competitive blocker, and explosive with the ball in his hands. His college teammate, Dallas, will be eased into the offense but offers even more explosiveness, versatility as a pass catcher and, long-term, could be a feature back.

They will begin the season down a core player, but the Seahawks can feel good about their tailback situation entering 2020.