Thoughts on Seattle’s growing injury problem

November 18th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks can still make a run at the playoffs, can still win the NFC West and can even still claim a first round bye.

But the injuries are mounting — and Monday’s game against Atlanta will show us just how badly they’re impacting Seattle’s chances.

Kam Chancellor has been ruled out already, amid reports from the NFL Network that he’s out for the season. Pete Carroll tempered those reports during his press conference today:

It’s often said the healthiest teams are the ones who prosper. The NFL is a war of attrition. Surviving and being balanced are as important as anything.

Seattle’s roster has been hammered by injuries. And there’s still seven games to go.

No Cliff Avril, no Richard Sherman and now possibly no Kam Chancellor.

Add this to the Luke Joeckel, Duane Brown, Jarran Reed, Chris Carson, Malik McDowell and other injuries.

It’ll be hard to criticise anything the Seahawks do the rest of the way in 2017. Imagine how ineffective the Rams would be if they suddenly had to deal with the following:

— Todd Gurley broken leg
— Andrew Whitworth bad ankle
— Trumaine Johnson torn achilles
— Robert Quinn neck injury
— Roger Saffold knee surgery
— Lamarcus Joyner neck injury

Then have Jared Goff have his jaw reset as Russell Wilson did this week. Let’s also say Aaron Donald misses a couple of games too as Earl Thomas just did.

The Rams would struggle to survive such a long list of key injuries.

Instead it’s the Seahawks needing to cling on.

The season really comes down to Wilson and his ability to keep the offense ticking along. They need to become what they’ve never really been under Carroll — a team dependant on the quarterback.

They can’t lean on the run. They might not be able to rely on the great defense. Indeed the biggest impact might be felt on the run defense. Chancellor and Sherman so often helped set the edge against the run and teams weren’t able to misdirect to the edge because of their tackling form. Now? It’s going to be a real test.

They might give up more pass plays too. Teams will want to test the cornerbacks more than ever. That could create some opportunities and it might be to Seattle’s benefit — but only if the DB’s can make the plays.

It’s not all bad of course. The front seven remains as good as any in the league and Bobby Wagner should be a candidate for defensive MVP. Earl Thomas is still the best safety in the NFL.

Wilson and the offense still might need to score more points. It’s some relief that so far they haven’t suffered any major injuries to the TE’s and WR’s. Getting Duane Brown healthy and on the field is vital.

Wilson has always been good enough to lead the team forward. His connection with the players he’s throwing too has never been more efficient or important.

LA has a difficult run of games coming up. They might win some of those — but Seattle’s road win against the Rams and current 3-0 record in the NFC West works in their favour. They could, quite easily, be #1 in the West by the end of this weeks games.

Monday is such a big night. The Seahawks need to, somehow, fight through the adversity and make a statement that their season is still very much alive.

As for Chancellor’s injury — there’s no denying it’s another huge setback. Hopefully this neck injury isn’t the end of his playing career. Ditto Cliff Avril. One thing is sure though — we’re talking about two warriors here. It’ll need to be very, very serious for either to walk away under these circumstances — without going out on top.

Either way though, it does feel like we’re edging closer to the end of an era in Seattle. The aggressive trades felt like this was a team trying to get another Championship, possibly ahead of inevitable change at the end of 2017 or 2018.

That’s a discussion for another day. With seven games to go, it’s time for new stars to emerge. Or for one quarterback to prove once and for all he’s right at the top of his craft.

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A follow up on Damien Harris & Kerryon Johnson

November 16th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

I’m currently working through the running backs eligible for the 2018 draft. It’s a relatively impressive group. There will be a handful that ultimately make it to the NFL and become more than backups. I’m not convinced that outside of Saquon Barkley we’ll have another Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott or Leonard Fournette type — but there are options for teams that want to add a runner.

I’ve watched most of the big names now. I haven’t done articles on them all — that will come in time. I’m not sure anyone’s impressed me more so far than Alabama’s Damien Harris and Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson.

Read more about the pair here and here.

Both players seem to fit Seattle’s physical profile (we won’t have full confirmation until the combine — if they both declare) and they are both underrated.

For example, Harris is much more of a playmaker than people maybe realise. He’s on 8.4 yards per carry this year. Bo Scarborough — his much more publicised and touted team mate — is only managing 4.6 YPC.

Now let’s compare Harris’ YPC to some former prolific Alabama running backs:

Mark Ingram 2009 (Heisman winner) — 6.1 YPC
Mark Ingram 2010 — 5.5 YPC
Trent Richardson 2009 — 6.3 YPC
Trent Richardson 2010 — 5.9 YPC
Eddie Lacy 2012 — 6.5 YPC
T.J. Yeldon 2012 — 6.3 YPC
T.J. Yeldon 2013 — 6.0 YPC
T.J. Yeldon 2014 — 5.0 YPC
Derrick Henry 2014 — 5.8 YPC
Derrick Henry 2015 (Heisman winner) — 5.6 YPC
Bo Scarborough 2016 — 6.5 YPC
Bo Scarborough 2017 — 4.6 YPC
Damien Harris 2016 — 7.2 YPC
Damien Harris 2017 — 8.4 YPC

Alabama has been able to run the ball with great success for years. Ingram, Richardson, Lacy, Yeldon and Henry were all first or second round picks.

None of them at any point in their careers got close to Damien Harris’ 7.2 YPC in 2016 or his 8.4 YPC in 2017.

Maybe it’s because he isn’t enormous like Henry, fun like Lacy (with that crazy spin move), highly touted like Yeldon and Richardson or just playing for an Alabama team that strangely isn’t getting much hype. Nobody really talks about the Crimson Tide. The playoff committee did their best to conjure up a headline by putting Georgia at #1.

In previous years, maybe Harris would get more attention? Perhaps it’s because he’s not receiving the mammoth workload Henry took on? That’s mainly due to the committee approach with Scarborough and the fact the quarterback is also a better playmaker these days. Simply put though — when Harris gets his opportunities he’s taking them.

He’s not a plodder working the hard yards in a grinding offense. He’s making big chunk plays and scoring touchdowns. Eleven so far to be precise. We already know he was running a 4.48 at the Nike SPARQ combines — an almost identical time to Bryce Love despite carrying an extra 20lbs. He’s no slouch.

And take a look at this:

Don’t you just love that? Don’t you want the running back on your team doing that?

Grit.

Johnson is a different type of player — more comparable to Chris Carson. Harris is compact and explosive while Johnson is longer and makes the most out of every run. They share one thing in common though — they’re both really impressive talkers during press conferences, expressing high character.

Don’t be surprised if these two make a big move as we get nearer the draft. Other running backs are getting more publicity — but I get the feeling Harris and Johnson will get ahead eventually.

High character, physical runners with great production, making big plays consistently for big teams — they tend to go early.

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Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson is very impressive

November 13th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

We’re focusing on running backs at the moment and with good reason. The Seahawks are going through a bit of a crisis with their running game. It doesn’t exist. They have two rushing touchdowns — both coming in the game against the Colts. This isn’t what they envisaged at the start of the year.

Even today’s news from Pete Carroll that Chris Carson could return in December has to be met with some caution. He suffered a broken leg and a high ankle sprain. It’s optimistic to think he’ll jump back into the lineup and provide the solution to this greatest of problems.

Change has to be expected in the off-season. We’ll see how generous the Seahawks want to be in giving C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls another opportunity. Eddie Lacy almost certainly will be a one-and-done. Whatever the situation with Carson’s health, they have to bring in another back. Possibly two. And because this is such a serious issue they probably have to do a little more than just look for value in day three.

This is a team known for aggressively addressing needs on the roster. That likely isn’t going to stop now. Running back could be the #1 target area in 2018 and they might go after it with some gusto.

Saturday was a good opportunity to watch some potential draft options. Auburn vs Georgia (see video above) featured Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Kerryon Johnson. There was a clear winner on the day.

Georgia came into the game as the #1 team in the country (the latest example of the playoff committee being as contrarian as possible to make headlines). They had a long touchdown drive to start the game — and were then completely dominated by Auburn’s impressive front seven for the rest of the day.

Watching Chubb and Michel try to run the ball in that environment brought back horrible memories of watching the Seahawks this year. Chubb managed 2.5 YPC on 11 carries. Michel managed 2.3 YPC on his nine totes.

It’s perhaps harsh to judge either running back on this evidence. Auburn got ahead and Georgia had to chase the game. Inevitably the run game was going to suffer and the Tigers were just too good up front.

That said — I suspect the Seahawks need more than just a decent back. As we’ve seen this year, the temptation to put the ball in the hands of Russell Wilson is too strong. He’s the best player on Seattle’s offense — joined by the likes of Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and the receivers. They give the Seahawks the best chance to move the ball. And when things start slowly, as they’ve been known to do, the ball goes to Wilson.

That’s understandable.

Yet the Seahawks were at their best on offense when a 7-2 half-time deficit like they had against the Redskins recently would lead to a heavy dose of Marshawn Lynch. They felt a pressure to feature Lynch. And between that desire to run and the quality of the quarterback — the balance was always there. It created the perfect storm. Even when things started slowly.

Watching Georgia desert the run game and ask the freshman quarterback to throw more times than all but one of his games so far this season reminded me of the Seahawks. That might be a mistake on my behalf. It might not be indicative of Chubb or Michel. But I had nightmarish visions of either player in all-navy blue in 2018 watching Wilson doing his magician act while they run for 3 YPC on 10 carries before exiting stage left.

I think you have to be sceptical that Chubb is going to be the same athlete we saw at the 2013 Nike SPARQ combines too. He’s playing well this year. But he doesn’t seem like the player who shone so brightly when Todd Gurley got injured in 2014.

Then there was Kerryon Johnson.

There were two players who came to mind while watching him run for 167 yards on 32 carries. His patience and ability to wait for a play to develop was quite a lot like Le’Veon Bell. He isn’t Bell — for starters he’s about 12-15lbs lighter. Yet it’s the name that springs to mind watching the way he waited behind the LOS for the opportunity to emerge to make a big gain.

He also, funnily enough, looked a little bit like Chris Carson in his build. They’re both quite long-legged runners. Johnson is listed at 6-0 and 212lbs, Carson at 5-11 and 218lbs. They are both useful in the passing game.

I’ve watched Johnson a few times this season because we get a lot of the SEC games over here. With every performance you just get more and more excited. Physical, agile, a capable pass-catcher with some all-round ability. He is one of the best players to emerge in 2017 as a legit pro-prospect.

So let’s see what he does well:

Initially I don’t think he does the best job on this play. A reasonable hole emerges on the right hand side of the line and he manages to run into the back of his own center and almost into the arms of a defensive linemen. Having initiated that contact however he then somehow explodes to the second level, shows terrific balance to stay on his feet and then stiff-arms a defender to get the maximum out of this run.

That’s a tough guy to bring down right there.

Gary Danielson noticed the Le’Veon Bell stuff too (volume required):

I’m not sure a Bell-type is best suited to the Seahawks. A decisive, physical runner with either some suddenness or punishing physicality seems to be the order of the day. Pittsburgh’s blocking scheme is quite different to Seattle’s ZBS.

That’s the good thing about Johnson. He can be patient. He can also be very physical and aggressive to get the hard yards:

Does this look good to you?

During recruiting there was a feeling Johnson might end up as a safety. He was an ‘athlete’ prospect. With a run and a punishing hit like that, you can see why some people thought he’d end up being a strong safety.

He’s also decisive and willing to get up-field:

He likely won’t get a run as easy as this at the next level but here’s another example of his ability to take advantage of a hole and get upfield:

There’s something be said about a back that just consistently gets the most out of every run. That seemed to be what Carson was doing before his injury. Johnson doesn’t give up on any carry:

One of the slight issues with Damien Harris is his ability to get outside quickly when he needs to. He’s more of a north-south type runner. This is an area where Johnson has the edge:

For the season so far Johnson has 1035 rushing yards at 5.2 YPC and 17 total touchdowns. He should be in the Heisman discussion — and that campaign will grow if Auburn beats Alabama and makes it to the SEC Championship (setting up a rematch with Georgia who they just pummelled).

I haven’t been able to find any Nike SPARQ combine numbers for Johnson. He was listed as running a 4.50 according to this website — but that could’ve occurred at an all-star event. If anyone can find the numbers let me know.

While looking for Johnson’s SPARQ numbers I stumbled across a couple of interesting things. At the 2014 combine Saquon Barkley ran a 4.68 (!!!) at 5-11 and 208lbs. Don’t expect him to run at the NFL combine. He did perform well in the powerball and vertical jump though — so he’s likely more explosive than quick. Bryce Love ran a 4.47 but did so at 180lbs. Love was much better in the short shuttle, powerball and vertical — so he’s another who is probably more explosive than lightning quick.

A reminder that Alabama’s Damien Harris ran a 4.48 at the Nike combine — at 208lbs. He’s very underrated as an athlete. Here’s the difference in SPARQ score and forty times from the 2014 event:

Bryce Love — 129.75
Damien Harris — 126.93
Saquon Barkley — 116.79

Bryce Love (180lbs) — 4.47
Damien Harris (208lbs) — 4.48
Saquon Barkley (208lbs) — 4.68

If Johnson is in the 4.50 range it won’t really make much difference to the Seahawks as long as his size is as listed (around 6-0, 212lbs) and he can have an explosive workout. For a reminder of what Seattle seems to like in a running back prospect, check out Friday’s piece on Damien Harris here.

A quick final note on the Auburn vs Georgia game. Keep an eye on receiver Javon Wims at Georgia. Every time I’ve watched the Bulldogs this season he’s found a way to make an impact. He high-points the ball, makes competitive grabs and is the type of player you can imagine the Seahawks having a bit of interest in on day three. He’s 6-4 and 215lbs.

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Damien Harris fits Seattle’s running back profile

November 11th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Damien Harris — possible future Seahawk?

Damien Harris has somehow avoided hype. It’s probably because he’s been living in the land of the giants at Alabama. First Derrick Henry, then Bo Scarborough.

Yet when you actually take the time to sit down and study his physical profile, he’s someone we need to keep in mind for the Seahawks.

You’re going to read this a lot over the coming months. Seattle likes explosive running backs of a certain height/size. If you run through their draft history under John Schneider and Pete Carroll, the trends are pretty clear.

It’s helped us refine the running back options over the last couple of years. In 2016 we were able to focus on C.J. Prosise merely by following the trends. This year we noted the following after the combine:

The Seahawks have a type (explosive tester, around 5-11 and 220lbs) and the ones best matching it are Alvin Kamara, Aaron Jones, Brian Hill and Chris Carson. Kamara might be a top-45 pick and out of contention but Jones, Hill and Carson could provide day three value and extra competition.

Here are the running backs drafted by the Seahawks between 2012 and 2016:

Robert Turbin — 5-10, 222lbs
Spencer Ware — 5-10, 228lbs
Christine Michael — 5-10, 220lbs
C.J. Prosise — 6-0, 220lbs
Alex Collins — 5-10, 217lbs
Chris Carson — 6-0, 218lbs

Some of these players either didn’t test at the combine or had reasons for underperforming (injury, illness). We can make some physical comparisons though:

Forty yard dash

Robert Turbin: 4.50
Christine Michael: 4.54
C.J. Prosise: 4.48
Chris Carson: 4.58

Broad jump

Robert Turbin: 122 inches
Christine Michael: 125 inches
C.J. Prosise: 121 inches
Chris Carson: 130 inches

Vertical jump

Robert Turbin: 36 inches
Christine Michael: 43 inches
C.J. Prosise: 35.5 inches
Chris Carson: 37 inches

Short shuttle

Robert Turbin: 4.31
Christine Michael: 4.02
C.J. Prosise: DNP
Chris Carson: DNP

Bench press

Robert Turbin: 28 reps
Christine Michael: 27 reps
C.J. Prosise: DNP
Chris Carson: 23 reps

Look at the similarities here across the board. This surely isn’t a coincidence?

It doesn’t mean they’ll never sway from this profile. They did sign Eddie Lacy after all. It’s not completely down to physical profile either. Attitude, running style or versatility also seem to be important.

Yet when we’re running through possible targets, physical profile is something to consider. Are they likely, for example, to look seriously at 5-10 and 196lbs Bryce Love at Stanford? Maybe. He showed incredible form against Washington last night and is possibly too much of a playmaker to ignore. He would be quite a departure from their previous draft picks at RB though.

The evidence above shows the Seahawks are not too concerned with fantastic speed. They’ll take a back running in the 4.5’s. What they want is explosive power. The broad jump, vertical jump and bench press appear to be vital.

We’ll have to wait until the combine for a clearer picture on who may or may not be on their radar — but some information is already available to us thanks to the Nike SPARQ combines.

In 2013 Nick Chubb had a sensational workout and looks like the prototype Seattle draft target. He ran a 4.47 forty at 5-10 and 217lbs, jumped a 40-inch vertical and ran a 4.12 in the short shuttle. His SPARQ score of 143.91 is elite at any position.

Such a workout would put him in Christine Michael territory if repeated at the combine. For all of Michael’s flaws he was a sensational, other-worldly athlete.

Chubb of course suffered a serious knee injury at Georgia so we’ll have to see if he can repeat that workout performance at the combine in 2018.

So what about Damien Harris?

He too participated in the Nike SPARQ combines, working out at a regional Kentucky event in 2014.

While his performance doesn’t match Chubb’s incredible display, he still had a good showing:

Height: 5-10
Weight: 210lbs
40-yard: 4.48
Short shuttle: 4.00
Vertical: 38 inches
SPARQ: 126.93

That’s a really good score for Harris. For what it’s worth they don’t use the bench press in SPARQ — it’s a kneeling medicine ball throw instead. Chubb managed 43 inches, Harris 35.5. Both will be expected to match the bench marks set by the likes of Turbin and Carson when they test.

Harris’ profile matches up to a possible Seahawks target. He’s now listed at 5-11 and 221lbs. What you see on tape are flashes of suddenness. When he finds a crease he often explodes through the hole to break off big gains.

For example, look at the decisive nature of this run against USC last season:

Harris sees the hole, executes the play and then makes a great cut at the second level to maximise the run. He gets chased down but it’s Adoree’ Jackson — one of the best athletes in the NFL. It takes a complete effort by Jackson to make the stop too.

His cut-back ability is impressive and you see evidence of good vision and a desire to get north quickly without any wasted movement.

While his straight line speed and explosion is a big positive, where Harris struggles sometimes is when he tries to bounce plays outside. He’s an up-the-middle type of runner as we see here:

That’s not to say he won’t give absolutely everything to make it happen. Here’s another example where he bounces outside and should be stopped. Sheer effort (and some poor tackling) gets him into the end zone:

He’s a patient runner and as we’ve already seen — he can be a chunk play artist. This was the first snap of the game against Arkansas this season. He waits for the gap to develop and then hits a home run:

If you give him a crease, he’ll hurt you. Whether or not he’ll have such generous holes to work with at the next level will depend on the team he lands with. Alabama are, again, dominating every opponent they face. Yet Harris still has to make the plays. He is doing.

Look at the work he does here at the LOS. He cuts back to the right and finds the hole and then just explodes into the second level. Big play:

He puts his foot in the ground, makes the cut and breaks off a huge run.

He can also push the pile too:

Here are some general highlights:

An underrated positive with Harris is his lack of wear and tear. This year he’s sharing the load with Scarborough and even then it’s not a strenuous grind. Alabama has been so dominant at the LOS he has an incredible 8.1 YPC this season. So while he’s accumulated 730 yards and 10 touchdowns — he’s doing it averaging just 10 carries a game. The running backs eat, they get a big lead and then they get a rest.

Harris has only 90 carries for the season. He had 145 carries in 2016. Compare that to Derrick Henry and his time with the Crimson Tide. Despite sharing the load in 2014, Henry ran 172 times. As the feature back and Heisman winner in 2015 he carried the ball 395 times (!!!).

Harris isn’t going to get anywhere near that total in 2017.

Character wise he’s a very impressive talker in public. Personable, talkative and respectful. Teams will like him and the way he handles media interviews.

He’s only a junior and he could technically decide to return for another year at Alabama — especially if he has an opportunity to be the lead back and make a Heisman challenge in 2018.

If he does decide to turn pro, the combine will likely determine his draft range. If he gets close to his 2014 SPARQ performance — he could be a big riser.

Either way, he’s someone Seahawks fans need to monitor.

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Friday notes: Jordan shines, Vita Vea and RB search

November 10th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

— Dion Jordan was superb last night, a major high point during the Arizona win. For starters he looks enormous. Nicknamed the ‘praying mantis’ at Oregon because of his tall, lanky frame — he now looks like a completely different player. He’s big and physical, capable of bullying inferior offensive linemen:

Not only that, on other occasions he showed he still has quickness and mobility and he played with his hair on fire all night. This could be one of Seattle’s best reclamation projects yet. It’s only one game and Jordan has to stay healthy and motivated. Damontre Moore looked good a year ago, got hurt and then ended up drifting again during a short stay in Dallas.

He’s a restricted free agent in the off-season so the Seahawks have some club control here. If he builds on a solid debut there’s no reason why he won’t be back in 2018 at a modest price. Jordan was the #3 pick in 2013 for a reason and his talent was never questioned. With Frank Clark, Sheldon Richardson, Naz Jones, Jarran Reed and now potentially Malik McDowell and Dion Jordan — there are signs of a young, highly talented new D-line core emerging.

— Last week I had the opportunity to watch Washington easily handle Oregon at Husky Stadium. And while it was easy to be impressed by the offensive talent on display — the two players that stood out the most to me were Vita Vea and Greg Gaines. You have to see Vea live to understand just how athletic and active he is. He’s listed at 6-5 and 340lbs yet time and time again he was running to the sideline, chasing down ball carriers and making it look easy. There just aren’t that many human beings on the planet with his size and athleticism — and that’s why he’s destined to go in the top-15. Gaines is highly underrated — just a disruptive interior presence who can also handle the run. Don’t be surprised if he ends up going earlier than expected and having a fine NFL career.

Dante Pettis had a very good outing too. From my view it was fun to watch him consistently create separation. He’s a dynamic, sudden athlete and it shows when you watch his routes and return impact. I think he’ll go earlier than perhaps some are currently projecting. Royce Freeman also had a good performance I thought. He’s mobile and very active for his size. You’d like to see him thump a little bit more though. He’s not a bruiser at 230lbs. He deserves the nickname ‘Rolls Royce’. That’s what he is — smooth and quick, looks the part. Sometimes you wish there was a little more nasty in there.

— Speaking of running backs, that’s going to be the focus for a while on here. We need to have a thorough look at the options available. When a team like Seattle is so clear in setting out an identity and then struggles mightily to incorporate that identity, it’s worrying. The Seahawks want to run the ball. And they aren’t — or they can’t.

I’m not sure what else they could’ve done in pre-season. They went into camp with a long list of names and a strong competition. Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise, Chris Carson, Alex Collins, Mike Davis. They gave themselves a fair shot to find someone to lead this running attack. They found Carson. Then he got hurt.

Unfortunately none of the other names were able to have an impact. Carson may return and end up leading the running game for years. The Seahawks need some security though. Some insurance. Rawls, Prosise and Davis might remain — but it feels like the writing’s on the wall for them. New blood might be required.

They might be able to land another veteran like Carlos Hyde. He might expensive. More than anything they need someone they not only trust to run the ball effectively — they also need someone they feel some pressure to get involved. With Marshawn Lynch they felt that responsibility to get him carries. His sheer talent demanded it. Now the best players on the offense are Russell Wilson and his targets. A struggling offense is putting the ball in their hands to try and make things happen. That, I’m afraid, is understandable and acceptable. Rawls had nine carries against Arizona for four yards — and one big 23-yard run. Feeding him was only going to lead to more failed drives.

That can’t go on for a third successive season in 2018.

Yes — the blocking also needs to be reviewed and analysed. However, Carson was running with authority and success earlier in the season. If he can do it — you’d expect the others to perform better.

We need to look for explosive runners listed within Seattle’s clearly defined size range of about 5-10/6-0 in height and 215-225lbs in weight. It’s a real shame Christine Michael never worked out because his body type is pretty much what they need right now. It’s hard to find players with his athletic talent. Sadly he proved to be a complete lost cause quite early in his career.

Let the search begin for a player who might fit a similar profile.

We’ve talked a lot about Rashaad Penny at San Diego State. He fits the size profile and he’s quite the all-round back. As we start this tour of the RB’s, here’s a collection of his highlights:

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Instant reaction: Seahawks gain costliest win of Carroll era

November 9th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

The title says it all.

An ugly, miserable contest — endured and not enjoyed — was won by the Seahawks. It was scruffy, with a mountain of penalties (21 in total) and multiple injuries.

How can the NFL watch this and think Thursday Night Football is a good thing for the players or the audience?

Making things even worse is the ongoing experiment with something called ‘Skycam’. Next weeks Thursday game will feature the ‘Madden 18’ angle for the whole night. They used it one for series here, before a nauseated audience complained enough on Twitter to seemingly get it pulled.

Still, that’s not the topic for discussion tonight. Injuries make this a night that could define Seattle’s season.

Duane Brown didn’t last a half before going off with an ankle sprain. Jarran Reed exited early with what looked like a hamstring pull. Michael Wilhoite injured a calf and Kam Chancellor ended the night being transported off the field on a cart with a stinger.

C.J. Prosise got injured too — hurting his other ankle this time.

Yet the big story is Richard Sherman. Nursing a sore achilles already, he left the field in pain and was telling a captive audience on the sideline he’d suffered a tear. Hugs with Russell Wilson and Kris Richard ensued.

Cameras caught Sherman mouthing he was out for the season. Pete Carroll confirmed it’s likely serious. A ruptured tendon.

Sherman fought back tears in his postgame press conference. It felt like Carroll was doing the same. It summed up the night. Seattle won — but there was no real joy in this victory. Just sadness.

That’s just the worst news for now. If it emerges that Brown and Chancellor also suffered major injuries — you’d have to question Seattle’s status as a contender. It’s one thing to lose a player or two — but multiple starters (don’t forget the existing injuries to Avril, Fant and Carson) would be destructive.

The Seahawks are already having to kick and scratch to win any contest. This whole evening was another grind. In fact the entire game arguably swung on one big play:

Russell Wilson is so close to being sacked for a huge loss — and so close to throwing an interception. With Arizona already enjoying a 6-minute drive to begin the second half — good field position (or a pick six) could’ve swung the contest.

Instead, Doug Baldwin makes an incredible play. The best of the season so far? Possibly. Maybe the most important. Seattle couldn’t stomach injuries galore and a 5-4 record.

Moments later Jimmy Graham is catching his second touchdown and the game was virtually over.

What a huge swing in a season of swings for Seattle.

It’s a reminder that despite all of the injuries, the Seahawks have a loaded roster. There were still three stars (Wilson, Baldwin and Graham) capable of winning the game at a moment of desperate need.

They’ll need that trio to keep making plays.

This was another night when the running game was an afterthought. The running backs managed just 54 yards on 18 carries at three yards per carry. Thomas Rawls, the starting running back, had 27 yards on 10 carries — including a 23-yard run through a canyon-esque hole. His other nine carries collected four yards.

Equally J.D. McKissic had 26 yards on five carries, with 17 yards coming on a neat looking pitch to the outside. His other four carries went for nine yards.

Again they needed 19 yards from Wilson to boost the numbers. Chris Carson remains, unbelievably, Seattle’s most productive running back. He played just four games.

The Seahawks spent an off-season trying to remedy this problem. It’s not getting better. Too much responsibility is placed on the quarterback. When he’s able to make the Houdini plays (see above), Seattle has a shot. When they don’t come off — how do they win without multiple turnovers?

It’s an issue that isn’t anywhere near being resolved and likely won’t be now we’re into the second half of the season. And that could be as costly as the mounting injury crisis.

We’ll see what happens. If Prosise’s injury is bad it might be an opportunity for Mike Davis. It’s probably time for Davis to get a shot anyway. Can he really be any worse? Deshaun Shead might come back into the fold to replace Sherman — or we could see Byron Maxwell return (it’s a touch of fortune that he’s currently a free agent).

The Seahawks are suddenly very fortunate they didn’t trade Jeremy Lane to the Texans.

The good news is the defensive line. While they didn’t pile up the sacks tonight, they had another strong outing limiting the Cardinals to 34 total rushing yards on 24 carries. Sheldon Richardson was terrific and had a brilliant bull rush early in the game for a QB hit. Dion Jordan had a tremendous debut with another great bull rush for a sack. Naz Jones continues to play at a superb level. What a find he has been.

K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner also excelled — as did Chancellor.

They’ll need all of those key players to stomach the loss of Sherman and the continuing absence of Earl Thomas. Plus the potential loss of the newly acquired left tackle.

A final note for today — Jimmy Graham now has six touchdowns and is on pace for double digit scores this year. All of the talk about trades or this being his final season in Seattle were premature. He’s a vital weapon — and the Seahawks are finally finding ways to get him the ball in the red zone.

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Marshawn Lynch shaped hole still gaping in Seattle

November 6th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

5-3 after eight games?

The exact same thing happened in 2014.

One of two seasons often reminisced about in Seattle started with drama and strife and adversity.

First they had to force Percy Harvin into a role on offense. Then they sensationally traded him to the Jets. Then there was all the talk of Marshawn Lynch refusing to board the bus ahead of the St. Louis game. Then we had the ‘Russell Wilson isn’t black enough’ talk courtesy of Mike Freeman.

With all this playing out in the background, the Seahawks dropped to 3-3, recovered to 6-3, then suffered an ugly road loss to the Chiefs.

It was only then, as a 6-4 club, that the wagons were circled.

The subsequent run — six straight wins to end the season — carried the Seahawks to the #1 seed and eventually the Super Bowl.

It is not beyond this team to have the same kind of turnaround. Nobody who watched that Kansas City game would’ve seen a winning streak coming. The Seahawks were as inconsistent, disjointed and frustrating as they have been in 2017 so far.

Somehow they worked it out.

So what did they have that the current Seahawks don’t?

Lynch is the obvious answer.

Here’s a section of a piece from November 12th, 2014, four days before that Chiefs game:

Replacing Lynch will be the toughest thing this franchise has to do in the post-Super Bowl era. You could argue running backs are easy to plug into an offense. How else can you describe 29-year-old Justin Forsett posting 5.4 yards-per-carry in Baltimore as the fourth most productive runner in the NFL? I think for most teams it’s a valid point. But not for Seattle. Not with Lynch.

He is so integral to this teams identity. He is a phenom, a truly unique runner that deserves to be remembered as fondly as any other running back since the turn of the century. His physical style, ability to break tackles, his attitude on the field. These are not easily replaced by just plugging in another player. The moment Seattle loses ‘Beast Mode’ the team will also lose a part of its identity. There’s no getting away from that.

He’s also a darn good player — the only true ‘star’ on the offense outside of Russell Wilson. The talent drop off will be difficult to overcome for an offense that can’t rely on a brilliant QB-and-WR partnership. Assuming you can’t add a superstar to compensate for his absence, you might need to bring in several players to make up for it. Think about that because it’s a realistic dilemma. Seattle can cope with Lynch and the current group of receivers. But take Lynch away and you might have to pump up that passing game with a couple of additions — not to mention probably adding a new running back.

Looking back on those words today, doesn’t it resonate so much?

The loss of identity. The need to add multiple receiving weapons to compensate.

Everything came true.

It’s stating the obvious to highlight how badly the Seahawks miss Lynch. That’s not really the point. This is about trying to highlight the difference between then and now. Because the Seahawks are arguably even deeper and more talented than they were in 2014 — so you hope they can still make this a Championship year.

In sitting down to write this piece, I wanted to look at that season and see reasons for optimism. All I could glean was how much this team misses having a consistent and brilliant running back.

This stat from Danny O’Neil is telling:

Lynch and Wilson used to share responsibility for the offense. Now it’s all on the quarterback.

He was brought in to be the star point guard, not a one-man LeBron James show.

As O’Neil highlights — on the days when Wilson can’t be fantastic, the team loses. With Lynch, they could survive a rough day for the quarterback.

The idea of a Seattle running back getting over 100 yards in a game is currently unfathomable. It’d be a major surprise if it happened. A 100-yard rusher? What a luxury. We used to take something like that for granted.

It’s something they don’t have now and they miss the comfort and stability that Lynch brought to the offense. He grounded them. If he wasn’t getting the ball, it felt necessary to get him involved. What draws Seattle back to the running game now? The opportunity to see which of Lacy, Rawls or McKissic can struggle for a short gain? It’s too tempting to turn to Wilson instead.

Yesterday is a good example of the difference between the two versions of the Seahawks. In 2014 you imagine they would’ve come out in the second half featuring Lynch. In 2017 they practically abandoned the running backs and put the game on Russell Wilson, trying to chase the big play.

They badly need some balance and some help for the quarterback.

Chris Carson might’ve been the guy, sadly.

What can they actually do without him? They appeared to acknowledge the need to feature one back before the Washington game. Eddie Lacy was the chosen one. He got injured in the first half.

Now what?

It feels like if they’re going to get this right, as they did in 2014, they need that running game. Is it fixable with the players on the roster?

Wilson is currently the teams leading rusher with 271 yards. Carson, shockingly, is the second leading rusher with 208 yards despite missing several games with a broken leg.

They only have two rushing touchdowns — one by Wilson, one by J.D. McKissic. And they haven’t even threatened to establish a ground game or score running TD’s.

Can you really change this now? They’ll try, but is it possible?

If not, is it fair to hold high expectations for this version of the Seahawks if the quarterback needs to be fantastic every week?

And will they ever be as good as they were in 2013 and 2014 without Lynch? Despite all of the big additions — Jimmy Graham, Sheldon Richardson, Duane Brown — it’s the subtraction of Lynch and the inability to replace him that feels the most telling.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks lose, fall to 5-3

November 5th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

There’s usually one characteristic saved for good teams. You have to play your best game to beat them.

The Seahawks, strangely, have never quite lived up to that.

The Pete Carroll era, predominantly filled with successes and exciting wins, has also been known to throw out an occasional ugly loss.

The Redskins and Kirk Cousins deserve credit for the way they won it at the end. That’s a terrific drive with the odds stacked against them. Two big pass plays to win. That’s not easy against any opponent in that situation.

But really they had three good drives — their scoring drives — and struggled mightily the rest of the day.

Seattle dominated yardage, time of possession, first downs, yards per play, sacks.

That should’ve been enough to secure a win. It wasn’t.

The 16 penalties, the three missed kicks, the two failed two-point conversions, the slow start on offense, the big drive conceded at the end by the defense.

It was one thing after another until the very end.

It was, it has to be said, a bit of a mess. A blown opportunity to go to 6-2 and stay at the top of the NFC West.

The Seahawks under Carroll love to play chaotic games. They often thrive in such a dramatic setting. The problem is, such a scenario can easily lead to a performance and result like this — even against an injury-ravaged Redskins team.

Had a loss like this been coming? Was the four game winning streak a bit of a mirage? Maybe. They’d made hard work of all four of those previous wins. Today, their luck ran out as they tried to kick and scratch to a fifth.

It’s a significant loss if you were hoping the Seahawks were going to stride forward and become the team to beat in the NFC. They fell further behind the Eagles and are now relying on the NFC East beating each other up to bring Philadelphia back into range. The Rams continue to march forward — both Philly and LA today rolled to the kind of easy wins Seahawks fans must crave.

The Rams, rightly, will now be the favourites in the NFC West.

Despite all of the aggressive moves and the determination to win now, Seattle unfortunately looks a bit too disjointed to take seriously as a contender. That can change, of course. But the margin for error is almost completely evaporated.

In 2013 they only lost three games in total. In 2014 they needed a Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton injury plus an incredible winning streak to overcome a difficult start.

At 5-3 at the mid-way point this Seahawks team looks disappointingly similar to the two previous years. Destined to win about 10 games, make the playoffs but face a difficult road game.

It’s a shame to have to write that — but isn’t obvious? The Seahawks have games coming up that they can and should win. They also have games on the horizon where you can foresee struggles.

Right now they’re closer to the boom or bust Panthers than the clean, functioning Philly, LA and New Orleans.

Pete Carroll has to get this team playing clean football. At the moment they aren’t playing at the kind of level befitting the big names on the roster. They need to get out of their own way.

There is some good news from today that I wanted to share with you. I was very kindly invited into a suite for the game today, meaning I had spare tickets. With the help of Brian Nemhauser at Hawkblogger, we made the Club Level tickets available for a donation to Ben’s Fund — the charity set up by Traci & John Schneider to support the following cause:

…to not only provide grants to families to help them obtain services for their children on the spectrum, but also to connect families to FEAT so they will be established in a larger community to receive ongoing guidance and assistance as they continue their journey with autism.

We raised $400 for the charity today.

If you’d like to make a donation yourself, here’s the link.

 

Some thoughts on Seattle’s aggressive 2017

November 4th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

I’m heading out to Husky stadium tonight for the Oregon vs Washington game. Before leaving I wanted to put down some thoughts on the aggressive approach the Seahawks are taking this season.

With two big trades for Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown, the Seahawks no longer own the following:

2018 second round pick
2018 third round pick
2019 second round pick

It’s a considerable outlay and the team might feel the loss of those picks down the road. Change isn’t that far away for the Seahawks. Several key players are getting older. As new players get paid (Sheldon Richardson and Frank Clark presumably) there might not be the money to keep other stalwarts.

There’s no doubting Seattle’s approach. They’re not completely abandoning the draft (they still have their first round picks) but they’re focusing on a very specific window here. Probably this season and next.

This isn’t so much about sustainability anymore as it is maxing out the potential of this core group to win multiple Championships.

Why might that be?

1. The NFC is wide open

The teams that really dominated the NFC during the last two seasons are faltering. Atlanta look completely different minus Kyle Shanahan’s offense. The Panthers have well and truly made that 2015 season look like a flash in the pan. The Cardinals are ageing, injured and without Calais Campbell.

The top ranked team currently is an upstart Eagles with a second year quarterback. They’re good. They might turn great by the end of the season. But for now it’s hard to look at Philadelphia and see the same kind of threat as Atlanta a year ago or the Panthers in 2015.

The Seahawks have talent spread evenly enough across their roster to take control of the NFC, much in the way they did in 2013 and 2014. A couple of key areas were letting them down — left tackle and the running game. The Duane Brown trade solves one of those problems. Now they have to find a way to field a competent running attack.

Neither problem is solved without the deal with Houston. And while they could’ve possibly still worked through the NFC field to get a #1 or #2 seed — the aggressive trade makes it more likely to happen.

I watched a NFL Network segment yesterday where a group of players made their mid-season Super Bowl predictions. All four picked a different NFC representative — Seattle, Dallas, Philadelphia and New Orleans. That’s how winnable the NFC is this year.

The opportunity is here right now. Can you blame the Seahawks for doing whatever it takes to grasp it?

2. Change is inevitable

This core group are not going to just keep playing forever. There will come a time, possibly as early as the 2019 off-season, where major surgery is required on the roster. Will players retire or move on? Will there need to be cuts to allow room for others to be paid?

And perhaps more significantly, how much longer is Pete Carroll going to coach for?

This is his show after all. If he wants to max out this tenure with this Championship caliber team, doing what it takes to win now will be at the forefront of his mind.

That’s not to paint Carroll as this selfish ego-maniac only interested in winning during his time in Seattle. Don’t you all feel similarly? Would you rather this era be best known for one title, one agonising near-miss and a bunch of Divisional round exits?

If the Seahawks win at least one more Championship this year or next, we’ll have lived through a legendary era of Seattle football. Ensuring that happens is the most important thing right now. It’s more important than any future mini-rebuild. And here’s why they can feel that way…

3. Russell Wilson will be the man

Whenever the roster changes eventually occur, the quarterback is going to be so important. We’ve seen Pittsburgh, Green Bay and New England go through roster facelifts and remain competitive. Why? The quarterback.

So while spending future stock might prevent the Seahawks retaining a loaded roster in nearly every facet, Wilson is good enough (as evidenced against Houston) to elevate this team and keep it winning while a transition period occurs.

Hopefully he’ll be doing that as a two or three time Super Bowl winner. If not, well at least they left no stone unturned. Brady and Roethlisberger were able to win Championships without complete rosters so a few big name departures or retirements doesn’t spell the end of Seattle’s window.

There’s one other final thing to remember here. Seattle has made four big trades since 2013:

Percy Harvin
Jimmy Graham
Sheldon Richardson
Duane Brown

Clearly there are mixed opinions about these deals. Nobody can dispute, however, that all four players were incredibly unique, productive players with star potential.

It says something that Duane Brown might be the least talented of the quartet and yet he plays a position where there’s a dearth of talent currently in the NFL. His addition might be the most important.

Draft picks are the best way to bring in cheap talent and build a deep, competitive roster. But you’re not getting players of this quality and proven production in rounds 2-3 or even the late first.

They weren’t trading for washed up players or players who hadn’t proven anything. They were bringing in pure quality.

Such is the NFL, none of the deals have worked as well as the lesser compensated deals for Marshawn Lynch and Chris Clemons. Can you really blame the Seahawks for trying though?

We can only imagine how many rings Aaron Rodgers would have right now had Green Bay taken a few more risks to help him get back to the Super Bowl.

At the very least we can live with the knowledge the Seahawks were much more pro-active.

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Seahawks draft needs — status check (DE, OL, RB?)

November 1st, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

With the Seahawks trading their second and third round picks in 2018 for Sheldon Richardson and Duane Brown, a lot of importance is going to be placed on their remaining first round pick.

The safe odds are probably on another trade down to regain some of the spent stock.

Even so, at the moment they’ll be relying on day three hits to make their 2018 class an impactful one. And they’ll probably focus on whatever they determine to be their biggest need with that early pick.

As things stand, there are probably three main contenders:

Defensive end

The future of Cliff Avril is unclear. Hopefully he will make a full recovery from his neck injury and return at the incredibly modest sum of $8m for next season. Whatever happens, an EDGE rusher or LEO is likely to be a point of focus.

Avril is approaching the last year of his contract, Michael Bennett turns 32 in less than a fortnight and Frank Clark, probably due an extension at some point, appears to be the only truly long term feature.

Marcus Smith and Dion Jordan were brought in as projects. It’s possible that either player, after a year with the team, could be re-signed to show what they can do in 2018. That’s a possibility but not something we can say with any certainty today — especially in the case of Jordan.

If Malik McDowell returns next year and with Sheldon Richardson, Nazair Jones and Jarran Reed working with Michael Bennett and Frank Clark — Seattle has size and freaky athleticism on their D-line. Speed and quickness off the edge could be a need to compliment what they already have and that looks like a good early bet to be Seattle’s focus with their top pick.

Bruce Irvin — 1.55 10-yard split, 4.50 forty
Cliff Avril — 1.50 10-yard split, 4.51 forty
Marcus Smith — 1.57 10-yard split, 4.68 forty
Dion Jordan — 1.61 10-yard split, 4.54 forty

This is the type of speed they’ve had and could be missing in 2018. Considering the Seahawks are likely to be out of range for the likes of Bradley Chubb and Harold Landry, it’ll be interesting to see which other prospects time well at the combine.

Offensive line

Call this the Dallas approach. The Cowboys just kept pumping draft stock into their O-line until it became a major asset. The plan has enabled Dallas to transition from Tony Romo to Dak Prescott and make Ezekiel Elliott one of the best playmakers in the league.

Seattle’s line is starting to take shape. Hopefully Duane Brown provides an answer at left tackle. Justin Britt and Germain Ifedi appear locked in at center and right tackle respectively. The hope has to be that Ethan Pocic will become a regular feature at one of the guard spots and/or they could still re-sign Luke Joeckel.

If Joeckel was to walk and if Oday Aboushi wasn’t re-signed, bringing in a top class guard to complete the set could be Seattle’s answer to Dallas’ plan. It’d have to be for a top talent, however.

Quenton Nelson at Notre Dame is one of my five favourite players to watch in college football at the moment. He’s sensational and could easily emulate Zack Martin by going in the first half of round one. If he fell a bit like David DeCastro and was around in the 20’s, he would be a major value pick.

Ohio State’s Billy Price could be an alternative option. Both Nelson and Price are highly aggressive, mobile, gritty blockers. They probably won’t be there for Seattle — but if they were, they could finally turn the offensive line into a major strength and help the Seahawks get back to running the ball the way they want to.

Running back

It could be quite a deep running back class in 2018 although it feels at the moment like the best value might be in the round 2-4 range. Clearly Saquon Barkley is going to go in the top-five. Then there’s a long list of names that could go anywhere from the mid-first to the late third.

The earliest pick Seattle has spent on a running back in the Pete Carroll era is a second rounder for Christine Michael. He was a physical freak of nature with all of the talent in the world. If the Seahawks were ever going to draft a running back in the first round, they’d probably have to be a similar athlete.

We also know they have a body type they like and a preferred physical profile. They’ve consistently brought in explosive athletes rather than speed demons and all of their backs have been in that 5-10 to 6-0 range in height and around 220lbs.

Before Seattle was forced to cough up their third rounder in the Brown deal, that looked like a sweet spot for a RB pick. With the running game in flux, they might be more inclined to attack this position early. They’ll need to do something though. Eddie Lacy isn’t likely to return, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Procise haven’t worked out so far and Chris Carson will need to recover fully from a broken leg.

It’ll be interesting to see how Nick Chubb tests following his knee injury. We’ve often referenced his performance at one of the Nike SPARQ combines. If he gets anywhere near that again and the medical checks are OK, he could go very early.

There are others to mention — Bryce Love, Derrius Guice, Damien Harris, Ronald Jones and Royce Freeman to name a few. The one I’d keep an eye on the most at the moment is San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny.

He’s having a fantastic year with 1368 and 12 rushing touchdowns (plus 136/2 as a pass catcher). He has six career kick return touchdowns and he combines toughness, elusiveness and the ability to break off big plays. He’s in Seattle’s size bracket (5-11, 220lbs). He also talks well in interviews and is elevating his team to a strong season.

I’m not sure where Penny will go in terms of round. We’ll need to see how he tests. Yet if the Seahawks did move down into rounds 2-3 to accumulate more picks, I wouldn’t bet against Penny landing on this team.

There are other positions we could mention. It’s pretty clear the Seahawks want to invest in a young quarterback to work behind Russell Wilson and provide some cheap security. That’s less likely to happen now that they don’t own picks in rounds 2-3.

Linebacker was highlighted as a need area by Pete Carroll at the end of last season and the depth they brought in arrived via free agency. They might seek to draft some young talent at linebacker.

Tight end could also be a focal point considering Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson are both out of contract.

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