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Three ways the Seahawks’ crowded running back room could shake out

NFL: Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

With the selection of Kenneth Walker lll in this year’s draft, the Seattle Seahawks now have one of if not the most crowded running back rooms in the NFL. It features Chris Carson, who’s rushed for over 1,100 yards in his career twice and has averaged 4.6 yards per carry throughout his tenure with the Seahawks. It also has former first-round pick Rashaad Penny who despite only having 1,572 career rushing yards, 749 of which came last season, has averaged 5.6 yards per carry over the course of his career. So, with a running back room that’s this crowded, what are a few of the scenarios that can play out (assuming everyone stays healthy for 17 games)?

Option #1: Penny becomes the bell cow

Last year in a very limited workload due to injuries Penny finally showed some of what made him a first-round pick by Seattle in 2018. It is difficult to envision him becoming a true 300+ carry bell cow running back that we saw with Shaun Alexander way back in the early 2000s but a 240+ carry season is certainly not out of the question. Penny appeared in 10 games last year with a total of 119 carries, an 11.9 rushing attempts per game average puts him at 202 carries over the course of a 17-game season. An uptick of that nature is certainly not something that is out of the question, especially if he has a few 20-carry games early in the season.

Seattle also potentially has a bit more motivation to go this route with Penny for two additional reasons: the first being he’s in another contract year, and as we have seen multiple teams do with running backs with a year on their deal left, they might simply run him into the ground and then let him walk in free agency. The other benefit of taking this approach is it will limit the amount of carries that Walker gets in his rookie season, which will increase the likelihood that he is an effective player if/when playing on his second contract with the Seahawks. Seattle drafted Walker high in the second round, meaning they likely do not view him as a one contract and done player and they likely view him as the replacement for both Penny and Carson in the hopes he becomes the teams true bell cow back down the road.

Option #2: The Penny/Walker 1A and 1B

This in my opinion is the most likely scenario for the 2022 season. It would see Penny and Walker receive about 75% of the carries with the duo seeing a split of 40/35 and Penny likely seeing the extra few carries. An outcome like this allows Penny to receive a large enough workload to where Seattle can get good value for him whilst also getting Walker enough seasoning to where he should be ready to take over the starting job next season. In this scenario with projecting the team at 500 total rushing attempts, it would mean Penny would receive 200 total carries, a slightly lower number than Scenario 1 which saw him be the team’s true bell cow. Walker would then receive 175 carries, which would allow him to make an impact on the offense as a second-round pick but would also help preserve him for the future (assuming he gets very few touches in the passing games as well). This split would leave around 100 carries for Carson with the remaining totes going to depth running backs and Drew Lock/Geno Smith.

Despite entering the final year of his contract, it is really difficult to envision Seattle running Carson into the ground with just how severe of an injury he is coming off of. A cervical neck strain that requires surgery is a very serious injury with there being some initial fear that it could be a career ending injury. Limiting him to around 100 rushes would also allow him to keep some more burst throughout the season. Seattle could effectively bring him in late in games and in short yardage situations to almost become their closer. When the opposing team’s defense is tiring out in the fourth quarter, bringing on a fresh Chris Carson would be a very scary sight for any team. This scenario would also open the door to Seattle bringing Carson back on a one-year deal for 2023 if he proves to be effective enough back coming off of his neck injury, as he would be below 300 cumulative total carries between 2020-2022.

Option #3 The even split

This scenario would see Penny, Walker and Carson all receive around 30% of the carries which would equate to about 150 rushing attempts per each of the big three backs. There are some major benefits to a split like this. It would keep every single back fresh throughout the season — averaging fewer than 10 carries per game makes it rather difficult for a back to get worn down, which is going to be key throughout the first two and a half months of the season with Seattle’s bye not coming until Week 11. The second benefit is it becomes very difficult for defenses to truly gameplan for an offense when they have no idea who is going to be the starting running back that game and who is going to lead the team in carries. It forces opposing teams to gameplan for scenarios in which every back is the work horse that week, which gives Seattle a key advantage as opposing teams will be forced to gameplan for multiple scenarios that are guaranteed to not happen. The third benefit is not only does it preserve Walker for the future it also opens the door to Seattle feeling more comfortable in giving Penny another contract without having to worry about him coming off of a heavy workload season.

A 150-carry season in 2022 would only give him 430 career carries, which is a rather miniscule number for a player to have in his first five seasons — although much of this is due to injuries. For comparison’s sake, Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery who is the same height and only four pounds heavier than Penny already has 714 career carries through his first three seasons.

Again, all of this is predicated on the health of all three running backs, particularly Carson and his uncertain future in the league.