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The case against second-round running backs, only freshly made

Terms not to be found anywhere below: “positional value” or “running backs don’t matter”

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s always good to open a persuasive post with two disclaimers, and the longer the better. That’s how they teach it in the best blogging schools at the best universities, in the best basements of the best mothers.


Zach Charbonnet is an excellent football player. I can’t wait to see him tear up defenses and bully his way into the end zone. In green and navy. He will make an awesome Seahawk. We already know Ken Walker possesses similar talent; he could easily blossom into an elite back in the NFC, and sooner rather than later, if it all works out.

I will cheer for them both, full-throatedly. What a duo they will make. This 1-2 punch will be so much fun to watch. Because they are good. Maybe even great.


The argument against selecting Charbonnet and Walker in the second round will be made without using the terms “positional value” or “running backs don’t matter” at any point. You’ve heard the rationale, so I wont bore you with it. Especially since many fans have chosen a camp and have no intention of defecting.

Make no mistake. Positional value is partially why the Seahawks should not have drafted a second-round running back this year — or any year! — and running backs Do. Not. Matter. Many smarter people than me have crunched the numbers and made cases that you can read about elsewhere, and disagree with elsewhere. If you want to rehash the RBSDM discussion in the comments, I am wholly uninterested in that idea, which is a bad idea, and you are a bad person for thinking it. Bad idea, bad person. Bad bad bad.

(Gave you two links anyway, just to not be a bad person myself.

RBs positional value has cratered

RBs don’t matter

You’re welcome.)

So I plan to ignore everything that has been said about positional value and all the research that demonstrates convincingly and thoroughly that RBs are fungible players with far less impact on wins and losses than their other star teammates. And still manage to show that Charbonnet and Walker were poor picks. But great players!

If anyone doesn’t know the history of running backs drafted under John Schneider and Pete Carroll, an education awaits. It’s a long list, 11 men, with a true variety of professional outcomes.

A) I’ll list them, B) I’ll reveal when they were selected, C) I’ll include some key stats and D) I’ll even rank them for fun, as objectively as possible.

RBs drafted by Seattle under PCJS

Name Round drafted / Year Yards gained in SEA TD in SEA 2nd contract?
Name Round drafted / Year Yards gained in SEA TD in SEA 2nd contract?
Robert Turbin 4 / 2012 1,355 2 No
Christine Michael 2 / 2013 1,037 7 No
Spencer Ware 6 / 2013 10 0 No
Kiero Small 7 / 2014 0 0 No
C.J. Prosise 3 / 2016 694 3 No
Alex Collins 5 / 2016 788 5 No
Zac Brooks 7 / 2016 0 0 No
Chris Carson 7 / 2017 4306 31 Yes
Rashaad Penny 1 / 2018 559 14 Yes
Travis Homer 6 / 2019 917 3 No
Deejay Dallas 4 / 2020 802 5 N/A

(Note: Due to insufficient career data, Walker is not included on the list. Let’s revisit after he’s played more than 15 games. While his trajectory is promising — see the disclaimer for a third time if your thumb allows — there’s no track record to lean on yet.)

The top takeaway, and it isn’t an original statement, is that Carson is head and shoulders above the rest, despite being chosen in the seventh round.

The next obvious thing leaping off the screen is exactly how mixed a bag it really is. There are two exceptionally promising careers derailed by injury (Penny, Prosise), role players galore (Turbin, Homer, Dallas), guys who never saw the field (Brooks, Small), one enigma (Michael) and two dudes who thrived somewhat after a change of scenery, with one of them getting one last shot in Seattle (Ware, Collins).

What there isn’t is another real hit surrounding Carson.

For fun, and it was definitely not at all fun, I added up every yard gained on rookie contracts by non-Carson players. Check it out:

It’s Carson and the Carsonettes

Who? Rookie contract yds Rookie contract TDs
Who? Rookie contract yds Rookie contract TDs
Carson 4,306 31
All others 5,763 36

Keep in mind the “all others” comprises 10 other RBs, drafted in the following rounds: 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 6, 7, 7. Every round is represented, and Carson holds his own against the forces of 10 teammates combined.

The Seahawks tried every round for a decade, and struck gold once, at pick 249. Not exactly the best rationale for investing more second rounders in such a volatile market.

If anyone, anywhere should conclude that you get production from your running backs without relation to their draft status, it’s Schneider and Carroll. Surely they remember their own picks, right?

Well, maybe second contracts will shine some light on the debate. One important way to evaluate a draft pick is, was he good enough to keep around, and if he left, was it to a contract you could’ve matched? And if he stayed, was it a wise move? Eh, the last column is a real killer.

11 running backs selected; only two earned a second contract. Eight were allowed to leave or washed out of the league. Pressure’s on you, DeeJay, to buck the trend.

And then there’s the matter of what the Seahawks received in exchange for the second contracts awarded. Carson signed a $10.425 million, two-year deal in 2021 and netted all of 232 yards before retiring. Penny was paid $5.75 million for five games and 362 yards. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d prefer to invest a late second-round pick, one of the most valuable assets in John Schneider’s hands — Bobby Wagner! DK Metcalf! Golden Tate! Tyler Lockett, sort of! — on a player worth paying twice.

Which is part of the risk assumed in paying ball carriers. They take so much abuse.

I’m all in favor of players getting paid every cent they can before a brutal sport spits them out, especially when their wages are artificially suppressed in the prime of their careers. But the team also has a responsibility to fans and its other on-the-field employees to manage the finite resource of payroll well.

We were spoiled with Marshawn Lynch, who didn’t miss a game from 2012 through 2014. 48 games played out of a possible 48. Not a single man on the chart above ever appeared in 16 games for the Seahawks as their RB1. Turbin had three perfect seasons, Homer one and Dallas one, but they spent their time here has backups or emergency starters.

It’s rare for a star RB to be available all the time... which is another reason to avoid investing significant draft capital in their fragility.

Now, to rank them all, by success of total career. To avoid surprises, everyone should know beforehand that Ware gained 2,319 yards and scored 13 times in four injury-riddled seasons for the Chiefs, while Collins went 326-1384-14-4.2 in Baltimore. They had nice enough second acts after bombing here.

Ranking the drafted RBs

Rank "Hi, I'm" Round drafted
Rank "Hi, I'm" Round drafted
1 Carson 7
2 Collins 4
3 Ware 6
4 Turbin 4
5 Penny 1
6 Homer 6
7 Michael 2
8 Dallas 4
9 Prosise :( 3
10 (tie) Small, Brooks 7

I’m perfectly open to re-arranging numbers 6 through 9, but any amount of re-organizing won’t change the fact that it doesn’t make a positive difference if the RB is a first- or second-rounder.

All I’m seeing is that no matter where the Seahawks pick running backs, unless it’s Chris Carson, they get middling production out of them, and varied degrees of good health here and there. It doesn’t help when they nab RBs in the top 50, and it doesn’t hurt when they wait until Day 2 or Day 3.

Draft pedigree is no predictor of success in the league at the running back position, in this smallish sample from the Seahawks’ last decade. Therefore the second-rounder is better spent on a player who is likelier to command a second contract, and much likelier to give you more than four games of performance in that second contract.

P.S. Anyone familiar at all with the Seahawks’ last decade will note the absence of one Thomas Rawls. It’s hard to decide if he’s an argument for or against drafting running backs in the first two rounds, since his success was equally fleeting and unique among all those undrafted runners who cycled through the V-Mac since 2010.

P.P.S. A poll? Sure


All other things being equal, when does it become OK to draft a running back in today’s NFL?

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    1st round’s fine if he’s good enough
    (190 votes)
  • 28%
    2nd round
    (152 votes)
  • 17%
    3rd round
    (92 votes)
  • 10%
    4th round
    (57 votes)
  • 3%
    5th round
    (16 votes)
  • 1%
    6th / 7th round
    (9 votes)
  • 2%
    You should only acquire RBs in trades, free agency or undrafted free agency
    (11 votes)
527 votes total Vote Now