For the first time in a long time the Seahawks enter a season with a lot of questions at the running back position. Marshawn Lynch has retired. Thomas Rawls is recovering from a severe ankle injury. General Manager John Schneider, who values draft picks more than perhaps any other GM, selected 3 running backs in the 2016 draft. Christine Michael, who finished the season as the starting running back, is a long shot to even make the roster. How did we get here? Who will be carrying the football for the Seahawks in 2016? Let’s take a look.
Heading into the 2015 season the Seattle Seahawks seemed to be set at running back. Marshawn Lynch would be joined by trusted backup Robert Turbin, and ultra-talented running back of the future, Christine Michael. By week 11, Lynch was out with an injury, Turbin was a Cleveland brown after a brief stop in Dallas, and Michael had spent time in Dallas and Washington. Undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls surprised everyone, taking the lead back role, leading the league in Yards Per Carry while accumulating 786 yards over 10 starts before his own season ended to an ankle injury.
A broken ankle on December 13, 2015 ended Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls’ breakout rookie season. (AP)
Thomas Rawls is the starter, if healthy. But that’s a pretty big if. Thomas Rawls broke his ankle, and tore several ligaments. He didn’t have to have any screws or plates inserted, but this type of ankle injury is pretty rare, so there isn’t much data on recovery prospects. Coach Pete Carroll, in his typical optimism, has been clear he thinks we will see Rawls back for the season opener. However, Rawls has yet to practice. During his June 18th press conference Carroll indicated Thomas Rawls’ recovery is actually behind that of Jimmy Graham, the Seahawks tight end recovering from severe patellar tendon tear. That’s not to say Rawls will not be ready for game 1, but it’s far from a guarantee at this point.
C.J. Prosie, the 3rd round draft pick out of Notre Dame, was drafted with a very specific role in mind. He is a prototypical third down back. Passing downs are his expertise. In college he transitioned from wide receiver to running back, and brings pass catching and route running abilities far beyond your typical running back. He’s too big for your typical Corner to cover, and his route running will give opposing linebackers fits. At 6’, 220lbs he has the physical tools to run and pass block. He’s raw, especially as a blocker, but will certainly improve rapidly in the Seahawks system. Prosise demonstrated good speed at the NFL Combine, running the 40 yard dash in 4.48 seconds. He’s a good open field runner, and a willing tackler on special teams. It would be an incredible shock of Prosise wasn’t the 3rd down back when the season begins
On the Fence
Alex Collins was the #1 running back coming out of high school. He proved up to the hype, rushing for over 1000 yards in all 3 years of his college career. At 5”10, 217lbs, he is powerfully built, and runs hard, with low pad level. He is a one trick pony, a powerback who contributes little catching the football, and runs with average speed. His running style is reminiscent of Chris Ivory, though with fewer broken tackles. Collins is a decent pass blocker. He is at his best running between the tackles, especially in short yardage situations. He could feature as a goal line back. At best Collins could eventually compete to start, as the heir to Marshawn Lynch. At worst, his lack of explosions is evident and he doesn’t make the final 53.
Christine Michael has come a long way in 3 years. He was the Seahawks first draft pick that year, and flashed tremendous talent in the preseason. But even by his own admission his work ethic was lackluster. He never developed the complimentary skills of pass blocking and receiving, nor did he manage to earn a starting roles on special teams. Finally, at the start of the 2015 season, he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a 7th round draft choice. He was eventually waived, picked up by Washington, and ultimately released. His career seemed to be ending.
That all changed with the injury to Thomas Rawls. The seahawks were in need of a running back who knew the system, and Christine Michael was brought back to take over the lead back roll. He performed well, setting career highs for rushing yards in back to back wins and contributing to a playoff win against the Minnesota Vikings. He was offered a 1 year deal, though none of it is guaranteed. Michael remains an iffy propositions. While he proved he can be effective, Michael is competing against younger, cheaper options with seemingly more upside. Being as good as the rookies won’t earn him a roster spot. Michael will need to demonstrate real improvement, and clearly outperform the rookies to remain on the team.
When the Seahawks selected Zac Brooks in the 7th round of the draft, they were clearly selecting athleticism and potential over productions. Standing 6’, weighing 200lbs, Brooks impressed at the Clemson pro day, running the 40 yard dash in a blazing 4.45 seconds. Despite the measureable Brooks only gained 809 yards of total offense in his entire career. He’s never been a starter at the collegiate level. Brooks is a classic late round project. While it’s possible he can earn a roster spot with stellar special teams play he is much more likely a practice squad player, and perhaps even a cut by the end of the preseason.
Injuries have severely hampered what could have been a very good college career at USC for Tre Madden. A converted linebacker, Madden uses at 6”, 220lbs of his frame when he runs. His toughness, paired with good vision and a high football IQ, should make for a very effective running back. However, missed 2012 and 2014 with injuries, and enters the NFL with plenty of potential, but little production, and many health concerns. Madden seems to be healthy now, but he would need a terrific camp to have a realistic shot to make the team. Expect he will most likely be cut during the preseason.
The Seahawks have given every indication that Thomas Rawls will back for the start of the regular season, and should resume his role as the lead back. C.J. Prosise is a virtual lock to be the 3rd down back. The big battle could come down to Alex Collins vs Christine Michael for the chief backup roll. Michael has the experience, and, even at this stage of his career, far more natural ability. The Seahawks value the hard charging, physical style of Alex Collins. Ultimately, the decision will be made on the practice field and in the preseason. Competition will decide which of the two remains a member of the team. Zac Brooks is likely to find himself a spot on the practice squad. Tre Madden is likely to be cut before the start of the regular season.
The Seahawks will play out the 2016 season with a completely rebuilt group of running backs. While Rawls and Prosise are pretty easy to predict, the rest will be difficult to sort out over the summer. You’ve seen my prediction. Who do you think will comprise the running back depth chart at the start of the season?