From 2010-2015, the Seattle Seahawks had, in my opinion and the opinion of many people who will read this, the best running back in the NFL. Over that period of time, Marshawn Lynch was third in rushing yards and tied with Adrian Peterson atop the scoring leaders with 57 touchdowns. Isolated to his more prime years of 2011-2014 and Lynch is first in rushing yards and has 14 more touchdowns than second-place Arian Foster/Peterson.
Lynch came to the Seahawks off the back of two ho-hum years of being lead in rushing by Julius Jones (698 yards in 2008, 663 in 2009), but those followed seven years of Shaun Alexander (second in rushing yards and touchdowns from 2001-2007, behind only LaDainian Tomlinson), three years of Ricky Watters (three straight 1,200-yard seasons), and six years of Chris Warren (third in rushing from 1992-1997 behind only Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith).
When Pete Carroll first arrived in Seattle, in his very first press conference with the team, he emphasized a commitment to the running game in a way that few coaches of the present QB-dominated era really do. And the legacy of Alexander, Watters, Warren, and Curt Warner was surely continued, if not surpassed, by the Lynch years. Unfortunately we are now witnessing a revitalization, if not a deeper sinkhole than we’ve ever seen, of the Julius years.
Since Lynch’s retirement after the 2015 season, the Seahawks are led in rushing by Christine Michael. Yes, the running back who has played in nine games for Seattle in that period of time, zero this season, and was never good.
Michael has 469 yards in nine games, with 4.01 YPC and six touchdowns.
Russell Wilson is second with 413 yards, 4.05 YPC, and two touchdowns.
The first active Seahawks running back on the list is Thomas Rawls, who since the start of 2016 has 373 yards, 3.06 YPC, and three touchdowns.
Fourth is Chris Carson, who in four games this season had 208 yards, 4.24 YPC, and zero touchdowns.
Next is C.J. Prosise, who has 192 yards, 5.05 YPC, and one touchdown in nine games.
Sixth is Tyler Lockett, and he has 145 rushing yards in 20 games over that period of time.
Seventh is Alex Collins, who had 125 yards and 4.03 YPC in his nine games with Seattle last season, and now is on pace for over 1,000 yards with the Baltimore Ravens. Not to say that Collins has resolved his problems with fumbling (two already), or that he’s relevant in the passing game (he’s not), or that he’s scored (he hasn’t), or that he couldn’t get released by the Ravens midseason (he could), but I also don’t see the point in shying away from the fact that Collins has been a pleasant surprise from Baltimore if only because of the low expectations that so many people had for him.
Finally in eighth place (“finally” because he is also a current active back for the Hawks and a good place to end) is Eddie Lacy, who in three games with Seattle has 74 yards and 2.96 YPC, zero touchdowns. I guess J.D. McKissic is also an active running back for the Seahawks but he seems much more of a receiver to me still. However, I’ll point to his 40 rushing yards, 5.71 YPC, and one touchdown.
This is over the course of 21 games and the most rushing yards by any player on the team total is 469, and the most by an active back on the team is 373. I mean, Lynch had 417 rushing yards with Seattle in 2015 over seven games and I barely even remembered he was still on the team back then.
Carson still leads the Seahawks in rushing this season with his 208, which is 134 more rushing yards than Lacy. Wilson is attempting 35.6 passes per game, surpassing his 34.1 att/g figure from last season, which was much higher than his 30.1 att/g figure from 2015.
That’s 80 additional passes over the course of a season from 2015 to now. That’s hugely significant, especially for a team whose entire offensive identity was built around the running game. It was easy to see this transition happening even early on in Wilson’s career — a QB who is that good in his first 2-3 years is clearly going to take on more responsibility as he ages, just like Tom Brady and Drew Brees did — but not so easy to predict that the value at running back would nosedive so hard.
Lacy ranks 80th in rushing yards this season, and he’s the highest-ranked active running back on the team right now. He’s got fewer rushing yards than Aaron Rodgers, Corey Grant, Jacoby Brissett, and Kirk Cousins. Blake Bortles has 126 rushing yards. Lacy, who I viewed as perhaps the best signing by the Seahawks during the offseason and sneakily perhaps one of the better free agent additions league-wide, has instead been immovable.
And that is not a compliment.
Lacy’s averaging 3.0 YPC and at no point, including in the preseason, has he looked like an NFL caliber running back. I don’t care what his weight is at this point — maybe bigger really was better — I only care that he’s not doing the one thing Seattle signed him to do: Break tackles. This offensive line being what it is, you have to break/force missed tackles as a back. Carson is one of the best in the league at that, forcing a missed tackle on 37.5% of his touches this season, while Lacy is down at 19.2%. Rawls is at 20%.
And Rawls is still the player that most fans still have hope for over the rest of the season, and I can understand why. During the year of transitioning away from Lynch, Rawls was arguably the best back in the league. I believe he was better than Todd Gurley, the 10th overall pick in the draft that year, but he hasn’t looked the same since breaking his ankle against the Ravens. He had a few good games last year, including this past January in the playoffs, but whether it’s confidence or a physical ailment, he’s not making things happen on his touches in the way that he did as a rookie.
Rawls had five carries for four yards in Week 2 and eight carries for 20 yards in Week 5. He could be the Seahawks starter moving forward, but he’ll need to take command of the running game early like he did in 2015 (or like Carson did this season) to establish the threat, and not just someone who is like the default accepter of hand-offs like we’ve sort of come to expect from him and Lacy at this point. If anything, I have more hope in the forgotten Prosise, who is actually forcing a missed tackle on 42.9% of his touches, but those touches are extremely limited because of his own issues.
Yes, the offensive line is bad, but it was bad when Carson was the starter, and it wasn’t even all that great when Lynch was the starter. I mean, when Rawls broke out for 169 yards against the Bengals in 2015, he did so behind Russell Okung at left tackle, Justin Britt at left guard, Drew Nowak at center, J.R. Sweezy at right guard, and Garry Gilliam at right tackle. That’s a fine left tackle, but some pretty huge liabilities elsewhere, especially with Britt at that position and Nowak at center.
For the first time in years, Seattle just doesn’t even move the needle when it comes to valuing running backs around the NFL. It’s forgettable that they even have one. Which is even more of a bummer considering that the Seahawks could squeeze in a few extra million to perhaps upgrade the offensive line, which is what they paid Lacy with the intention that he’d offset the detriment of their current offensive line.
He hasn’t, and the lack of a healthy threat on the roster is holding them back from being as good as they were during those prime Lynch seasons.