Who is the Best Running Back in Seattle?

On its surface, this question appears to be a two-horse race heading into 2017, between incumbent Thomas Rawls who burst onto the scene after Marshawn Lynch’s injury-plagued 2016 and dynamic rookie C.J. Prosise. However, after a look at Seattle’s history and analyzing their depth chart, a few other names sneak into the conversation. Yes, to be honest, odds are Rawls and Prosise are going to be the main guys going forward, but don’t be surprised to see a few under the radar guys eat into their snaps and touches. I will go over some of the lesser known backs first, then delve into Rawls and Prosise later.

Seattle sustained numerous injuries and setbacks at the running back position over the course of the 2017 season, and as a result saw 18 different players carry the ball for them last year. Even when you exclude players who only had a single carry, quarterback rushing attempts, and even punter attempts, Seattle still had 11 different players rush the ball for them last year including the departed Christine Michael and CJ Spiller. There are nine running backs currently part of the Seahawks team, be it on their active roster, practice squad, injured reserve or under a futures contract and interestingly, all of them are going into only their 2nd or 3rd season in the NFL. Following what has become a theme in Seattle, six of the nine were undrafted, and only one, Prosise, was drafted before the 5th round.

Using the process of elimination, right off the top we can eliminate Terrence Magee and Tre Madden from the conversation. Both undrafted, they provided some depth for Seattle in a year they needed it, but it is hard to imagine either one will be a part of the team’s plans going forward barring another injury outbreak. Madden did not see a single snap, and Magee saw six, and neither player contributes on special teams, so it is hard to picture them suiting up much in 2017.

We are digging deep here, but this is where this depth chart starts to get interesting. First, we have George Farmer, who will be entering his 3rd NFL season. Farmer was an undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA) his rookie year with Dallas, and he eventually found his way to the Seahawks organization. Farmer has one hell of a pedigree. His father played in the NFL, and he was a 5-star recruit coming out of high school, where he was the #11 overall prep player that year (and a quick glance at the 2011 rankings, I believe nine of the ten players ahead of him are currently on NFL rosters). His college career was a disappointment, to say the least, as injuries plagued him for the entirety of his playing career at USC. Some were your standard football-related ACL-type of injuries, but he also sustained a severe brown recluse spider bite that resulted in him missing time too. Despite injuries and a poor showing in college, he can do lots of things given his athletic ability. USC recruited him to play wide receiver and eventually converted him to running back. He entered the NFL as a running back before the Seahawks converted him to cornerback in 2015. Last year, Seattle moved him back to running back when they needed bodies to fill in. He can be dynamic, but at the NFL level, the history books are not kind to players who were not productive in college. No word yet as to if the Seahawks will keep him at RB or move him back into the secondary. One interesting eye-opening story about Farmer: his former coach Lane Kiffin claimed that he ran a 3.96 40-yard dash in pads, which is complete insanity, but here’s a link to the story:

Another Seattle back with a father who played in the NFL is rookie Kelvin Taylor, the son of outstanding running back Fred Taylor. Taylor is one of the few backs that had been drafted into the NFL as a 6th round pick of the San Francisco 49ers last season. He did not catch on there and eventually made his way to Seattle. Taylor was a little raw coming out of college, but I liked what I saw and thought he had some upside. According to mockdraftable.com, Taylor’s combine measurables profile similarly to players like Theo Riddick, James White, and Ronnie Hillman. On the surface, this is not a glowing endorsement by any stretch of the imagination, but those players had significant NFL roles, if only for a short while. Taylor might be able to squeeze in some reps, but with Prosise and others well ahead of him on the depth chart, he will probably need a change of scenery or some injuries to be relevant.

Troymaine Pope is a player whom I thought might turn into a sleeper play last year. He was an undrafted free agent for the Seahawks who was cut loose and signed by the Jets, where I thought he would get a chance, but he did not. He made his way back to the Seahawks, and in very limited touches (11 carries) I thought he looked good for a UFDA that has bounced around the league in his rookie season. He can probably be a solid backup, but again, much like Taylor, with the players ahead of him on the depth chart here, he will probably need a change of scenery or some significant injuries to be on your radar at this point. The Seahawks s.aff was very high on him early in the year last year, but it is hard to know where he is positioned heading into next season.

Obviously, this is of little help to people who only play in standard redraft fantasy leagues. Aside from Rawls and Prosise (and maybe even Alex Collins) none of these guys should even be on your fantasy radar. This article is geared more towards dynasty owners with deep benches and taxi-squads where you can hold a guy you hope can develop into a serviceable NFL player. That said, don’t sleep on JD McKissic. Who? Exactly. McKissic is a lil fella, coming in at 5’10” and 187 pounds, but he can do some big things on the football field. McKissic is the all-time leader in receptions in the SunBelt Conference – all-time…as a running back – with 289 career catches. He averaged over 10 yards per reception over his 4-year college career. He was a UDFA by the Atlanta Falcons before eventually being picked up the Seahawks. McKissic might be washing cars for a living this time next year, but if you are a fantasy owner who likes super deep under the radar players, this is the guy for you. Dynasty leagues, in particular, require a fair amount of speculation, so imagine if you will, Thomas Rawls is injured or ineffective, CJ Prosise takes over as the lead back, and Alex Collins comes in to do the dirty work on the goal line, leaving McKissic as the team’s passing-down back. That is not that crazy of a scenario, and in that role, you could probably see a hair under 100 fantasy points which isn’t bad when the bye weeks and injuries hit. There are riskier sleepers out there than McKissic, and pretty much nobody else is going to know anything about him.

As the 2015 college football season wrapped up, well ahead of the combine, around this time last year, I was as high on Alex Collins as anybody could be. More than his mother and grandmother combined. I like bruising backs and the footage I saw of Collins at Arkansas, despite a few holes in his game, made me get all geared up for my rookie drafts hoping he would fall to me somewhere. Then, the combine hit. To say he was awful at the combine would be an understatement. Here’s his spider chart from mockdraftable.com:

Athletically, the only thing he even did OK at was the 40-yard dash, where he still finished in the 40th percentile. To highlight his lack of athleticism, Collins capped off the combine with a vertical jump of a mere 28”, good enough to beat… well, nobody. His vert was in the 1 percentile; he was last. On top of all that, he did not land in an ideal spot as Seattle still had Thomas Rawls returning, Marshawn Lynch’s future was still in the air, and Seattle drafted two other running backs in addition to Collins. Thanks to injuries, Collins ended up with more opportunities to play than were anticipated and I thought he looked pretty good, even more so when you consider the dreadful offensive line he had to run behind. He averaged 4 yards per carry and, surprisingly, caught all 11 targets tossed his way for 84 additional yards via the air. He probably won’t supplant Rawls or Prosise, but he can be a fine handcuff in deeper leagues. He is absolutely worth a roster spot in all dynasty leagues and might be a sneaky end of the bench stash in some deeper redraft leagues as well. Rawls has been in the league for two seasons and has missed time due to injury both years and if that trend continues, look for Collins to see more time in the smash-mouth, grinding run game Seattle has employed since Marshawn Lynch arrived.

Now that I have covered the bottom of the bench players you probably don’t care about let’s get to the main event: CJ Prosise versus Thomas Rawls. Right off the bat, many people point out that Prosise was a 3rd round pick while Rawls was an undrafted rookie, based on the draft capital spent on Prosise, people think that he has an inside angle at the job. However, Seattle is not most teams. They have the most players selected late or undrafted on their roster in the entire league. If you can play, you will play, so the “draft capital” argument does not hold water. Not to mention, the actual money is not too far apart, relative to NFL contract money. Prosise is making about $778k per year, and Rawls takes home around $530k per season, so the money and draft capital concerns are non-issues. We have seen Rawls get injured during both of his seasons in the NFL, and Prosise also missed some time during his rookie season. So both have some slight durability concerns early into their careers.

When looking at their numbers, the picture does not get much clearer, if anything it becomes a bit muddier. Rawls had a fantastic 2015, rushing for 830 yards on 147 carries for a 5.6 yards-per-carry (YPC) average. He added in 4 touchdowns and another in the air as well. His sophomore campaign was a letdown following his debut. He only rushed for 349 yards on 109 carries, a lackluster 3.2 YPC. Now, the mystery is this: Was Rawls just not as good as he was a season ago? Was poor offensive line play to blame? Did his injuries cause him to lose a step? Did he never get back to full health? It is all speculative at this point, but I am of the opinion that it was a combination of two things. One, he was never 100% recovered from last year’s injury and never got healthy as new injuries piled up over the course of the season. Two, the offensive line was so bad that any running back would have a hard time putting up great numbers. I think the Rawls of ’15 is the real Rawls and assuming the Seahawks fix their O-line issues this off-season, I expect him to get back to that in 2017. Prosise did not get many touches, only 30 rushes and 17 receptions, but he looked good when they came his way. Interestingly enough, his rookie numbers were eerily similar to Rawls’ rookie numbers. He totaled 172 rushing yards for an average of 5.7 yards, right in line with Rawls. Where Prosise, a former wide receiver, separated himself from Rawls was in the passing game. Prosise accumulated 208 yards on 17 catches for an average of 12.2 yards-per-catch. If you got to see any of him on the field, he looked great when his touches came.

So here is the predicament, who is the best running back here and more importantly, who is one to own for fantasy football- in dynasty leagues in particular? The more I looked into it, the more confused I got. The upside play, without a doubt, is Prosise. We have seen Rawls’ ceiling in 2015, and it was superb, I am still a big believer in Rawls and a huge fan of him and his game. He can be a reliable fantasy running back, a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside in any given week, but an unpleasant injury history and slight sophomore slump combined with his lack of use in the passing game limits his upside and potential. Prosise, on the other hand, can do just about everything Rawls can do as a runner, but also brings a well-above-average talent as a receiver out of the backfield. He has real RB1 potential, especially in PPR leagues. We have seen enough of Rawls to have an idea of what he is, and because of that, he is probably the safer, higher floor guy, especially long term. However, the ceiling Prosise brings is much higher, as an average of 100 total yards per game is very attainable. Even if he splits the work with Rawls, 60 yards through the air and 40 on the ground is certainly attainable on a weekly basis, whereas Rawls is probably looking at something around 80 total yards in a timeshare. It is a good problem to have if you are the Seahawks, but a nightmare for fantasy owners. In standard scoring redraft leagues, Rawls is whom I would target in 2017. In Dynasty PPR leagues, I would target Prosise, and of course, after all of this, watch Collins vulture all of the goal line work from both of them and end up leading the team in touchdowns.

 

jdibari

Chicagoan living in Las Vegas. Fantasy Football writer & Director of In-Season Analysis for Dynasty Football Factory, blogger for USFantasy and contributor to TheFakeHockey. Member FSWA.

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