Even with a decade straight of top-shelf quarterback play, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has always liked to feature the run. In fact, during the 10 seasons that now-Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson was under center, the Seahawks finished in the top five in rushing yardage six times. The last two seasons they finished 11th and 12th, respectively. Don’t be surprised if moving on from Wilson doesn’t lead to Carroll leaning back into his comfort zone with a heavy dose of the ground game.
Athletically, Drew Lock is probably a better fit for a dynamic ground game than Geno Smith as he’s an underrated athlete who could threaten defenses as a runner. Either way, though, expect Seattle’s backs to get a lot of work once the season kicks off. Rookie running back Kenneth Walker III and holdovers Rashaad Penny and Chris Carson (neck) could all be factors, though all three carry an element of risk.
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Kenneth Walker III
On the surface it was a little surprising to see the Seahawks, which had a number of more pressing needs, select Walker with the 41st overall pick in this year’s draft. When you consider Carroll’s love of running the ball, durability concerns among its existing backs, and Seattle’s shaky quarterback situation, however, it makes more sense.
The Michigan State alum enters the NFL with the burst and breakaway speed to be a big-play threat, which is something the team needs with the state of its passing game in flux. Walker also is a physical presence and a tough runner.
Where the rookie still needs to grow is in the passing game. The scouting report paints him unreliable in pass protection and inexperienced as a receiver out of the backfield. While he could make things happen with the ball in space, he may find his role primarily on early downs in Year 1.
For most of his first four NFL seasons, Penny was unambiguously a bust. He dealt with injuries, including a torn ACL in 2019 just when it looked like maybe he was developing into something, and only flashed the talent that made him a first-round pick in very limited doses. And then … it clicked. Maybe. Over the last five games of 2021, Penny ran for 671 yards and five touchdowns on 92 carries (7.3 yards per carry).
Those are huge numbers, but they come with asterisks. One, Penny was fresh, running against mostly poor defenses playing out the string. Two, his one game against a good defense during that stretch was a 39-yard effort against the Los Angeles Rams. So how much do we read into that? Did the light come on? Or, did Penny just face the right opponents at the perfect time? For their part, Seattle only handed him a one-year deal, so they want to see more. He’s one of the great fantasy mysteries of 2022.
Chris Carson and DeeJay Dallas
Carson led the team in rushing in each of the previous three seasons before a neck injury brought his 2021 campaign to a screeching halt. There’s been little in terms of concrete updates surrounding the status of Carson’s surgically repaired neck, but he didn’t attend minicamp, and Carroll said there was a “big assessment to be done.”
For whatever it is worth, the veteran back doesn’t believe his career is over, but as we sit roughly a month away from training camp opening, hearing “there’s no timeline” for his return screams everything fantasy footballers need to know. Barring a miraculous turn of events, Carson is an afterthought at this stage of the process.
If Carson can’t return, Dallas would likely be the No. 3 back. He’s done little since being drafted in 2020, but he’s a decent receiver and has experience in the system.
Fantasy football outlook
Gamers will be hard-pressed to find a clear path to putting any of these guys in lineups with regularity. Expected shoddy quarterback play and a suspect offensive line could hold back any and all from reaching their potential in fake football.
Ultimately, how one values Seattle’s top two backs comes down to your opinion of Penny, and whether what he showed at the end of last season was an arrival or an aberration.
Ideally, split the difference and target Penny as somewhere around a midrange RB3 with risk-reward vibes. Walker fits in that same general RB3/flex area with his ceiling probably being a low-end RB2 and floor being decent depth. The duo likely will cancel each other out when both healthy, limiting both from maximizing their offerings.
Carson could be a final-round flier if he’s cleared to return, but there’s no upside left to squeeze out of him without an injury to one of the other two rushers.