What's Going to Happen in the Seattle Backfield? - Footballguys

The Footballguys staff offers thoughts on the Seattle running back situation

Seattle has one of many backfields where the roles are not clearly defined. Since running back is one of the most important positions in fantasy football, it's wise to get as clear a picture as possible on every backfield.

When Rashaad Penny was selected in the first round, everyone seemed to pencil him in as Seattle's stud runner. Then head coach Pete Carroll gushed all spring about how great Chris Carson looked. Plus, C.J. Prosise and J.D. McKissic look the part of third-down backs. How much of a load can Penny command?

Hester: The first thing to discuss is that Pete Carroll's gushing tells us nothing. He gushes about all his players. Second, it stands to reason that Penny will be given a chance to be the starter. The team obviously likes him, as evidenced by them nearly drafting him at 18 overall (as opposed to trading down for him and still over-drafting him).

But Carson played well when given chances last season. He's not going anywhere. And neither player is a three-down candidate with Prosise and/or McKissic healthy. The team will score more rushing fantasy points than last season (easy to do with only one rushing score by their backs all year long). But how those fantasy points are distributed will be difficult to predict.

The best case for fantasy football is that we see/hear Penny overtaking Carson in training camp and preseason. Even with only two downs on a capable offense, Penny would project as an RB2. And if the Prosise/McKissic battle sorted itself out similarly, the winner of that would have PPR-flex value in certain weeks but not much more.

Tefertiller: I am unsure on Penny so I have been gobbling up Carson shares. If the touches are split fairly evenly, Carson will be a steal .... even with the porous offensive line.

Simpkins: I’m predicting that things go much the same as last year— no consistent and viable option emerges from this group and fantasy owners end up frustrated.

Howe: Something keeps pulling me back in on Penny. He was a wild but NFL-caliber runner on tape, and I believe his measurables are indicative of something good. And when an offense loses a bunch of targets like this (Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson Jr) without apparent replacements, the only responsible way to project is to skew things, to some degree, back toward the run. Tyler Lockett isn't going to command 120 targets. Ed Dickson isn't the new Graham.

He'll also run behind a front line that's on the upswing. There was a clear improvement once Duane Brown joined the unit in mid-2017 - Mike Davis ran well against the Eagles and Jaguars late in the year. Penny is a higher caliber of a runner; he projects nicely into an RB2 profile even if given just 12-16 carries a week.

And, they sank a lot of draft capital into him. I generally like Chris Carson, but the Seahawks probably don't. Drafting a first-round running back isn't always a bold statement, but it usually is, and Carson isn't exactly immovable on the depth chart.

Parsons: The game script will be a factor for the Seattle offense this season. Russell Wilson's volume has been on the rise for years now and Seattle's defense is in full recalibration mode after shedding the older veteran staples from their glory years. The best fantasy option for Seattle lies with the best receiving volume. Talent-wise, C.J. Prosise is the best bet. However, Seattle moved on after Prosise's injuries by investing a Round 1 pick in Rashaad Penny. With a sturdy prospect profile and dual-threat skill set, Penny ends up as the most valuable asset here over the course of 2018.

Bitonti: The Seattle offensive line is currently ranked 19th. Short story: Not nearly as porous as they used to be. Duane Brown is a legit left tackle, and George Fant (the old left-tackle starter, not a bad player) will be 11 months off ACL and ready to unseat Germain Ifedi at right tackle. Meanwhile, right guard Fluker is a mauler in the run game. This Penny pick plus Fluker looks like an appeal to the ground game. J.R. Sweezy might be coming back to compete with Pocic and Rees Odhiambo at the left guard spot. Also (and this doesn't affect the grade) the offensive line coach swap/firing of Tom Cable (to Oakland) is a fan-friendly move, despite him being one of the most highly-paid positional in the business. The Seahawks franchise neglected the position under Cable, he would take UDFA no problem. It was cheap cap wise but led to poor cohesion. Cable swapped guys everywhere, seemingly without regard for their past careers. It's up to others to decide if he's a genius or a madman, but the bottom line is the Seattle offensive line should benefit from the stability under new coach Mike Solari.

Haseley: Russell Wilson makes the entire offense go. His presence alone will yield positive results in some capacity from the ground game. Trading up to select Rashaad Penny in the first round as the second back off the board behind Saquon Barkley says a lot about the Seahawks interest in him. It also is an indication that he will be given ample opportunities to carve a role in the offense. The Seattle running back depth is loaded though, which gives me some pause. Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic and Mike Davis each have their own specialties and areas of strength. Last year when Spencer Ware went down for the Chiefs, Kareem Hunt was the primary, de-facto option, other than Charcandrick West. Hunt took the ball and ran with it, and we all saw it coming. The writing on the wall suggests Penny will be the first option, but the size of his role will largely depend on his ability to pick up the intangibles like pass protection, knowledge of the offense and schemes and general intuitiveness at the next level. Tevin Coleman was also slated to be the top back as a rookie for Atlanta and then Devonta Freeman has his breakout. If anyone other than Penny is the lead back in Seattle this season, consider Chris Carson.

Wood: The Seahawks remind me of the Saints from a year ago. Sean Payton’s best teams (and his only Super Bowl win) came when his team ran the ball with impunity. Yet, year after year Payton emphasized Brees and the passing game, making an undermanned defense even more off-kilter. Seattle is a massive question mark for me this year with the additions of two horrible new coordinators. Brian Schottenheimer and Ken Norton are both failed coordinators that, at their best, are predictable. The one silver lining in Seattle is a rebuilt offensive line. Hopefully, Pete Carroll realizes the only chance Seattle has of a rebound is re-discovering a balanced offensive playbook. Under that scenario — just as New Orleans discovered last year — the running backs will far exceed baseline historical projections as a unit. If that happens, Rashaad Penny is a golden opportunity. The team drafted him 18th overall. No way is he going to be kept off the field for Carson, as long as Penny shows the same skill set that got the front office excited a few months ago.

Alexander: The only way Carson gets a chance on base downs is if Penny's pass-blocking is off-the-charts terrible. It's simple -- if Seattle had faith in Carson, they would not have drafted Penny in Round 1. Unfortunately for Penny, how much of a workload he can command -- and what he can accomplish with that workload -- might be out of his hands.

Parsons hit on a great point. The Legion of Boom era is over for Seattle's defense, which could create game script hurdles for the revamped rushing attack, no matter how much Carroll and Schottenheimer would like to run the ball this year. And as Bitonti stated, the big (only) addition to the offensive line was Fluker, a strong run blocker who graded 112th out of 142 qualifying guards in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking efficiency in 2017.

If the defense is no longer what we've come to expect from a Carroll-led Seattle team and the offensive line has trouble keeping Russell Wilson upright again, we should expect the team to be passing in all four quarters to the detriment of the running game.

The passing-down role in Seattle has not traditionally been high-yield for fantasy running backs, but if the plan all along was to draft Penny and make him a three-down workhorse, it is curious the team chose to protect against another Prosise injury by bringing back McKissic. Penny was an adequate receiver in college but remains unproven as a route runner. We shouldn't believe he's a pass-catching threat until we see him on the field over Prosise and McKissic on passing downs, though Dan Hindery does make a compelling argument for Penny's PPR value.

Maybe Penny -- a talented runner to be certain -- is good enough to overcome these obstacles and justify his ADP (or better), but his probable role as a two-down back in an offense that will run through its do-everything quarterback for a second-straight year, stands in his way.

Hicks: It is always difficult to forecast how a rookie fits into the running game, especially when a team like Seattle really struggles to run the ball. Last season Chris Carson was the only one who looked like an NFL caliber back, while others such as Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise who had been much better previously, struggled significantly.

The price for Rashaad Penny is a high one in 2018, considering the usual obstacles that hinder rookies. I would expect the Seahawks to start the season with Carson running and J.D. McKissic as the third-down back until Penny grabs the opportunity with both hands. This will be one of the situations worth monitoring very closely during training camp. The upside of Penny is well above his current asking price, but we do not often see that until a second or third season.

The gut instinct is to stay away from Penny and invest in Carson for a much lower price, but Seattle is going to desperately want Penny to succeed and will throw him in to repay their high faith in his ability.