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Seahawks 2021 pre-draft checkup: Yay! to retaining Chris Carson

Part 6 of a 9-part series

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Part of me wants to say that the Seattle Seahawks’ ability to retain Chris Carson was the team’s biggest offseason success thus far.

Retaining Carson is bigger than the phenomenal release-and-resign move they made with Carlos Dunlap.

Hanging onto Carson is bigger than signing Tyler Lockett to an extension.

Keeping Carson is bigger than the trade for Gabe Jackson and the follow-up move of securing his services for 3 years (instead of 2) on a relatively “team-friendly” contract.

Bringing back Carson is even bigger than poaching Ahkello Witherspoon and Kerry Hyder from the Niners AND picking up Gerald Everett from the Rams - even if all 3 moves were counted as one.

However . . .

Telling Chicago, “Thanks, but no thanks,” when they made what some would consider a bona fide offer for our franchise QB . . . even if it is just “for now” . . . that sort of trumps the heck out of retaining Chris Carson.

Especially since the Seahawks probably would not have retained Chris Carson if they’d accepted Chicago’s offer for RW3.


Turnover, thus far

Out:

  • Bo Scarbrough - free agent, unsigned
  • Carlos Hyde - free agent, signed with Jacksonville
  • Patrick Carr - Exclusive Rights free agent, currently unsigned

In:

  • n/a

The Seahawks sans Chris Carson

To even the casual fan, the difference between the Seahawks WITH Chris Carson and WITHOUT Chris Carson is noticeable.

Exhibit A: The end of the 2019 season - when Carson was on IR and Seattle turned to an un-retired Marshawn Lynch.

Exhibit B: The death of “Let Russ Cook” last season - it’s not a coincidence that Seattle’s offense curled up into the fetal position when Carson was out. (The fact that it never rebounded when he returned is on our former OC and/or our incumbent HC.)

I am not going to spend any time belaboring this point: Seattle is an infinitely better team with Chris Carson than without him and thankfully the front office (and coaching staff) agrees.

I will, however, take a moment to talk about his contract.

Many, including PFF, expected that Carson would command (and receive) a free agent offer in the range of $8M to $10M per year.

Seattle could have tagged him, but chose not to.

The Seahawks could have given him a fat extension before free agency started, but didn’t.

Instead, Seattle rolled the dice, let Carson test free agency, and then coaxed him back into the fold with a contract that will pay him $10.4M for TWO years.

$5.5M is guaranteed.

And his 2021 cap hit is a comically low $2.7M.

To give that last bit some context, Carson’s 2021 cap hit is actually $725,366 lower than Rashaad Penny’s.

Kudos to John Schneider (and his lieutenants).


Seattle RBs who aren’t named Chris Carson

There are those that think our current group of running backs is pretty strong; that Chris Carson + Rashaad Penny + Alex Collins is a “solid” group of running backs.

Some would argue that Carson + Penny + Collins is the best running back group that we’ve had in years.

I definitely do not agree.

I think that our running back group has the potential to be pretty good, maybe even pretty great. But I also think that putting any faith in any of our current running backs (other than Chris Carson) is asking for disappointment and heartbreak.


Rashaad Penny

Whatever your feelings are about Seattle using a first round pick on Rashaad Penny in the 2018 NFL Draft, I think we can agree that his career hasn’t gone the way we would have expected / liked it to - especially given where he was picked (#27 overall).

In fact, many have already labeled Rashaad Penny a “bust” and, at this point, it seems more likely than not that history will show that to be the case.

That said, Chris Carson was not wrong when he said this about him and Rashaad Penny (as reported on Seahawks.com) after signing his new contract:

“If we stay healthy, I think we can be one of the top rushing duos in the league. We both bring different things to the game, different attributes, but we complement each other so well. I just feel like his limit is ridiculous once he starts getting his feet wet in the game. I think it’ll be something special.”

The first four words are the important ones though.

“If we stay healthy ...”

_______

To be clear, I don’t dislike Rashaad Penny and I don’t think the Hawks were wrong to grab him in the first round - especially given the circumstances.

I am not of the opinion that Rashaad Penny will ever be an RB1 at the NFL level, but I think he’s a fine RB2.

And I genuinely agree with Chris Carson’s assessment: “(Penny’s) limit is ridiculous once he starts getting his feet wet in the game.”

I just don’t really “believe” in Rashaad Penny at this point.

But maybe I should . . .

If you look at Penny’s career stats (and ignore the fact that he’s never played a full season and that he only had 11 carries last year), what stands out is his sophomore campaign in 2019.

65 rushes isn’t a lot. Neither is 370 yards. And when you consider that he played in 10 games, the 6.5 rushes and 37.0 yards per game is . . . decidedly unimpressive.

Until you realize that he averaged 5.7 yards per carry.

5.7 yards per carry would have been the 4th best mark in the league last year - and it would have been #2 in the league if we only include running backs.

In 2020, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray were #1 and #2 in yards per carry at 6.3 and 6.2, respectively. J.K Dobbins (6.0) and Nick Chubb (5.6) were the top 2 running backs.

You know what else stands out when you look at Penny’s career stats?

Rashaad Penny’s career average is 5.1 yards per carry.

By comparison, Derrick Henry’s career average is 5.0.

Alvin Kamara checks in at 5.0 as well.

Dalvin Cook’s career average is “only” 4.8.

Aaron Jones? He averages 5.2.

The more relevant comparison, of course, is Chris Carson. During his best season (2020), Carson averaged 4.8 yards per carry. His career average is 4.6.

Obviously I’m not trying to say that Penny is better than Carson or that he’s on the same level with any of the other backs I mentioned. There is, after all, a lot more to consider than just yards per carry.

I’m simply pointing out that Penny doesn’t suck.

When he plays.

And therein lies the rub. And the concern.

Out of 48 possible regular season games, Penny has appeared in only 27.

For his career, he has 823 rushing yards.

Even if we add his receiving yards (158), he’s still shy of 1,000 total yards for his career.

I get the optimism.

I really do.

But we can’t count on Penny being available.

If we’re smart, we’ll pencil him in for maybe 80 carries, maybe 400 yards, and consider anything over either of those numbers “a bonus.”

Note: Those numbers aren’t me being snarky. They’re basically his average from his first two seasons; to me, last year doesn’t count.

In 2018, Penny had 85 carries for 419 yards; in 2019, he had 65 for 370.

Final thought on Mr. Penny: Unless Rashaad Penny plays all 16 games this year and tops 1,000 yards from scrimmage, I think we ought to let him walk next offseason. And that’s assuming that we don’t release (or trade) him before then.


Alex Collins

Alex Collins was selected by the Seahawks in the 5th round of the 2016 draft (#171 overall).

He appeared in 11 games with 31 carries for 125 yards (4.0 average). He was targeted 11 times in the passing game, caught all 11 passes, and recorded a total of 84 receiving yards (7.6 average).

I don’t remember the details, but he ended up in Baltimore for his sophomore campaign (2017). And he had his best season as a pro there (by far): 12 starts in 15 games, 212 carries, 973 yards, 6 touchdowns, 51 first downs.

Worth Noting: 2017 was the year that Russell Wilson led the Seahawks in rushing - by a lot. RW3 had 586 rushing yards. #2 was Mike Davis with 240.

Meanwhile, Alex Collins had almost 1,000 yards for Baltimore.

SIGH.

Collins played in Baltimore again in 2018 (10 games, 114 carries, 411 yard, 7 TDs) but was out of the league in 2019 (no stats) and was, as I recall, not on anyone’s roster when Seattle called him in 2020.

Last season, Collins appeared in 3 games, started 1 game, carried the ball 18 times for 77 yards, scored 2 TDs, and caught 1 of 2 passes that Russ threw to him (for 4 yards).

If we get the version of Alex Collins that Baltimore got in 2017, he’s a solid RB2 or RB3.

But what are the odds?

Final thought on Mr. Collins: As with Rashaad Penny, the potential is there with Alex Collins. And it will be “a really nice story” if he’s able to resurrect his career here in the Pacific Northwest. But don’t hold your breath.


Travis Homer

Round 6, 2019, #204 overall.

25 appearances over 2 seasons, 1 start, 43 total carries, 202 total yards, no touchdowns (rushing). Surprisingly good Yards Per Carry though: 6.3 his rookie season, 4.7 for his career.

20 catches on 23 targets for 146 yards, 1 TD.

None of that is why he’s on the team and will remain on the team for the foreseeable future.

In my opinion, out of all our current backs, the one that’s most likely to make the team, after Carson of course, is Travis Homer.

Why?

Because he’s the only that’s worth anything in pass protection.

There is a reason Homer is in the game when the Seahawks trail late and have to throw. The fact that he can catch the ball is just a bonus.

Final thought on Mr. Homer: He may not ever fill the stat sheet, but he’s a key contributor for Seattle and could carve out a really nice career for himself as Russell Wilson’s bodyguard (on passing downs).


DeeJay Dallas

DeeJay Dallas was our 4th round selection (#144 overall) in last year’s draft.

He had a pretty quiet rookie season. 12 games, 2 starts, 34 carries, 108 yards (long of 9), 2 TDs. He added 17 catches on 20 targets for 11 yards and a TD.

Not bad. Not super great either.

Amusingly, Bleacher Report’s Scouting Report for DeeJay Dallas compared him to Chris Carson and Spencer Ware. I’m not sure I see it, but I wouldn’t mind that being the case.

For now, the jury is out on him.

But, as with the other backs behind Carson, I wouldn’t put a lot of faith in him being a difference-maker for us this season.

That said . . .

If our new OC were to incorporate more passes to running backs - and especially if he were to do so with the running back not always lining up in the back field . . .

DeeJay Dallas could have a very good season.

Final thought on Mr. Dallas: N/A (the jury is still out)


Patrick Carr

If you’re looking at the Seahawks Depth Chart and saying, “Who?”, I understand.

Patrick Carr isn’t actually on the roster right now. He’s a free agent. An Exclusive Rights free agent. As such, the only team that he can negotiate with is Seattle.

Thus, unless Seattle absolutely does not want him back, he’s going to be on the roster (or at least the practice squad) in 2021.

That’s not why I’m including him on this list though.

I’m including him because I want you to click on this link and look at the dead money on his contract in 2021.

Alright, I’ll save you the click. Patrick Carr’s 2021 cap hit (if he’s not on the team) is $667.

Talk about every dollar counting when it comes to the salary cap.

Final thought on Mr. Carr: N/A (he’s not even officially on the roster right now)


Free agent running backs

OverTheCap (OTC) has a nice, sortable, Free Agency Tracker. Per that tracker, there are still some “big name” running backs available. Whether or not “big name” equates to “quality” is probably open to debate - especially a month into free agency. How much debate is probably dependent on the name.

Personally, the only name on the list that holds any interest to me is Todd Gurley.

That said, I’m only “interested” if he’s healthy (which he might not be) . . . and if our new OC “wants” him (which doesn’t appear to be the case since Gurley is still unsigned more than a month into free agency).

As for the rest of the available running backs . . . none of them would make our current list of backups any more inspiring. And that includes both Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore.

Meh.

Note: Someone will surely mention Le’Veon Bell in the Comments. I’m not really a fan. Plus, I think the smart money is on him re-signing with the Chiefs closer to training camp.


Rookie running backs

Remember what I said in Part Five about doing back flips if we made a Day One trade that landed us Florida’s Kadarius Toney?

Well, the same holds true if we make a trade and grab Alabama running back Najee Harris.

Combining Najee Harris and Chris Carson would be the RB version of combining Lockett and Metcalf. And combining Harris and Carson on the same team that has Lockett and Metcalf would be . . .

Mmmm.

Mmmm Mmmm Mmmmm!

We’re not getting Najee Harris though.

And we’re not getting Clemson’s Travis Etienne or North Carolina’s Javonte Williams either.

North Carolina’s Michael Carter or UCLA’s Demetric Felton might be an option . . . but only if they’re still on the board at pick #129 because we’re not taking a running back with our first pick.

Personally, I don’t foresee Seattle taking a running back in this draft any earlier than R4, and I will be somewhat surprised if the Hawks take one before Round 6.

Chris Carson was a 7th round pick though, and there are some intriguing backs who could still (maybe, possibly) be on the board in the back half of Day Three, including:

Realistically, any back selected after the 2nd round will probably be hard-pressed to mount a successful challenge for the RB2 role in Seattle this season. But given the state or our roster right now, I wouldn’t rule it out.