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Player Faceoff: Eddie Lacy, Seattle

Two staffers go head-to-head and discuss Eddie Lacy

The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.

High Side: Andy Hicks

It is easy to look at the performances of Eddie Lacy during the last two years and write the guy off. It is easy to look at how the Seahawks ran the ball last year and assume they have moved to a new phase in their offense. Overlooking Eddie Lacy this year is likely to be a big mistake.

Let’s look at the Seattle ground game first. For the first time since Marshawn Lynch arrived in 2010, the Seattle running game was a mess. The departure of Lynch, along with an injury to expected starter Thomas Rawls left the running game in the hands of unprepared rookies or a back in Christine Michael who has failed to live up to expectations. With a significant helping hand of poor offensive line play, Seattle plummeted from a top-3 running attack to one of the worst in the league if we take out the rushing stats of quarterback Russell Wilson. The running backs combined to average 3.8 yards a carry on barely 300 rushing attempts.

This is not the identity of the Seahawks. They want to run the ball first and pound it down your throat. This year they have addressed that by signing a punishing runner in Eddie Lacy. Thomas Rawls should be back to full health and the overwhelmed rookies will be better for the experience. Make no mistake though, this offense will run through Lacy first.

In his first two NFL seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Lacy rushed for 1,100 yards and averaged 12 touchdowns a year. He was a handy receiver out of the backfield and only missed one game. Conditioning obviously became an issue after that as Lacy had only 187 carries in 2015 and missed 11 games last year with an ankle injury. Seattle have hedged their bets with Lacy by giving him a heavily incentivized one year deal. If Lacy wants to continue running in the NFL, this is likely his last chance to show the form from his first two seasons. All reports are positive so far and even in Lacy’s supposed down two years, he still averaged 4.33 yards a carry, which is roughly what he did in his first two seasons. The question isn’t the talent. The question isn’t about a drop off in form. The question is purely about desire.

With a dearth of quality running backs for fantasy owners to choose from this year, Lacy is a proven performer in an offense that can run the ball well. If the risk of Lacy at his draft price is too much, a sensible option would be to pair him with Thomas Rawls late. Seattle will be running the ball often and Lacy is the best equipped to do that. Seattle lose nothing by working him into the ground and Lacy needs to make it work this year to continue his NFL career. The upside of an RB1 back is there, if you are prepared to accept a little risk.

Low Side: Matt Waldman

Eddie Lacy is a fine running back talent and in a vacuum, he has fantasy starter upside. Unfortunately, there are too many obstacles for me to say he’s a likely fantasy starter in 2017. These barriers include C.J. Prosise, Thomas Rawls, Pete Carroll’s coaching philosophy, the Seattle offensive line, and potentially Lacy himself. Even if Lacy overcomes the last two issues on this list—and I think there’s a likelihood that he does—the crowded depth chart and Carroll’s approach to the game will likely limit Lacy’s fantasy upside too much to expect consistent starter value.

Lacy’s incentive-laden contract is a massive statement about him—both good and bad. On the positive end, the fact that a team like the Seahawks would offer him a deal with these carrots indicates how much they value his talents when he’s healthy and in shape. However, it’s an equally negative statement that Lacy lacks the commitment, discipline, and wherewithal to maintain ideal physical conditioning on his own and without the fear of losing money. Seattle has taken flyers on talented but disappointing players before with mixed results, including C.J. Spiller, “Big” Mike Williams, Percy Harvin, and Christine Michael. The fact that Lacy’s weight and conditioning issues deservedly places him within this category is a legitimate concern.

The Seahawks offensive line is another concern. It’s a young unit that couldn’t stay healthy and develop the necessary in-game rapport that helps a group improve. Although offensive line coach Tom Cable has a fine reputation for developing units, last year’s woes were too much for him to handle. In theory, Seattle has upgraded its center and guard positions this offseason. Now it must show up in practice. If it does, and Lacy maintains his conditioning, the pairing of a good interior runner and an upgraded interior unit could yield dividends that Andy and Lacy fans are seeking.

However, there are still three obstacles standing in Lacy’s path to fantasy starter production and they are the most significant. C.J. Prosise is an excellent talent who earned three elite performances during a three-game stretch last year before he was lost to a shoulder injury. Prosise learned fast as an interior runner who was essentially still a wide receiver who played a running back at Notre Dame before getting some extra coaching before the NFL Draft and Seahawks training camp. Prosise has feature back upside and the Seahawks already plan to use him on passing downs, two-minute situations, and even in two backfield sets. Rawls is now healthy and only a year removed from a strong rookie season. Expect Prosise to cut into Lacy’s RB1 upside on a weekly basis and Rawls to threaten Lacy’s volume that would otherwise make Lacy an RB2.

The underlying reason is Carroll and the way the NFL regards running backs. Carroll preaches constant competition for every position with the potential exception of top players who have truly proven their worth. Running back has one of the highest rates of injury turnover in the league, and the Seahawks’ decision to add Lacy isn’t as much of a statement against its existing talent as it is an opportunity to bolster its depth chart with a reasonably priced veteran whose incentive-laden deal is a “pay-for-performance” situation. The Seahawks have already indicated that it will use a rotation with Lacy and Rawls while featuring Prosise prominently as a passing-down player. There are a lot of indications that fantasy owners are in denial that Seattle’s ground game is now a full-blown committee. Lacy is not replacing Marshawn Lynch in role unless two players get hurt.