Written by Kip Earlywine
(Earlier this morning Rob shared his thoughts on the RG3 trade to Washington, and how it could impact the rest of the draft. Be sure to check that out if you haven’t seen it already.)
According to our insider source, Seattle is looking at adding a running back at some point in this year’s draft, potentially as early as the 12th overall pick depending on how the board falls. Seattle has many other needs though, and that coupled with a deep running back class could cause them to address a few other areas first. That means Seattle could end up hunting for value at running back, snatching up one of the last few remaining big name talents around the 3rd round or so. Its worth noting that we received this information about a month ago, long before the NFL combine or the recent events in free agency. Since that time, Seattle has signed Marshawn Lynch to a smart four year contract that pays him surprisingly little in the first two years while having an easy out in years three and four in a worst case scenario.
Yet perhaps the best thing about this week’s contract extension of Marshawn Lynch is how the move has potentially put more options on the table at running back. The assumed motivation behind targeting a running back this year was to gain insurance in the event that Lynch was franchised then let go in 2013. Injury depth is also believed to be a factor, since the Seahawks as currently constructed would be in a world of hurt if Lynch missed time with an injury next season. This is probably the lesser consideration though considering that Lynch is only 26 years old next season and has a very strong health record despite his physical style of play. In short, Seattle was looking for Lynch’s heir as a franchise back, making players like Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, Chris Polk, and David Wilson prime candidates. But considering Lynch’s durability, youth, and recent production, and his shiny new contract, it now appears that Marshawn Lynch will be Seattle’s long term solution at running back. If that’s the case, we may see Seattle also consider a complimentary back much like Mike Holmgren once did when he spent a 2nd round pick on Oregon’s Maurice Morris to compliment Shaun Alexander.
LaMichael James is one running back option who lines up with many of Seattle’s criteria, and if Seattle is willing to consider change of pace types, James would likely top the list.
This front office has made it no secret that they target value on draft day and opportunity in free agency. James is a very talented back being devalued because of his role in a run centric offense. He’s also undersized, although NFL teams have shied away from small backs less and less in recent years. For those reasons James is likely to be drafted lower than his on field talent deserves, making him the kind of “value” selection that appeals to this front office. Seattle got Kam Chancellor in the 5th because of speed concerns. They got Richard Sherman in the 5th because he was a converted wide receiver. KJ Wright was a toolsy linebacker who hadn’t yet put it together which allowed him to reach the 4th round. James is being devalued for reasons that essentially have nothing to do with his talent, which makes him a potential bargain in the third round. Like many previous mid round selections, that could give him some strong appeal to Seattle’s front office.
There were two major reasons for Marshawn Lynch’s big leap forward last season: a significant weight loss which increased Lynch’s speed and athleticism, and perhaps more importantly, a vast improvement in the interior run blocking, spearheaded by Max Unger and Robert Gallery. Seattle’s rush attack looked slow and impotent attacking the edges, but it more than made up for it with a consistently strong inside rush attack. While I scouted James, the thing that really surprised me about him is that for an undersized back with speed, he’s actually at his best rushing up the middle. Despite his size he is a fearless runner that has great instincts and like Chris Polk, has a knack for forcing defenders to tackle at angles and using his surprising strength to pull the defender an extra yard or two. He uses his size to his advantage to find creases at the first level, similar to the way Justin Forsett had in previous seasons. A high number of James’ big plays started as running plays up the middle with no obvious hole to run through.
James also offers Seattle a dynamic kick return option. Leon Washington is under contract through 2014, but he turns 30 just before the upcoming season begins and Seattle should be mindful of his eventual successor.
The biggest hangup to selecting James could be his perceived lack of durability due to his size. And yet, James averaged over 20 carries a game during his Oregon career and only missed two games from injury, both coming last year after dislocating his elbow. It seems logical to suggest that James’ body would wear down more quickly than other backs if given a full time load, but at the very least, James can shoulder the burden of a 250+ carry season here and there in the event that Lynch goes down with an injury early in the year.
Now granted, Oregon ran a very unique offense and nearly every handoff James took resembled a draw play. That won’t happen in the NFL as an every down running back and it has yet to be seen how James would adjust to that. That is why James will likely be a 3rd or 4th round pick instead of being a high second rounder as his talent deserves. Still, if Seattle is hunting for value in the mid rounds and is okay with selecting a likely change of pace back who fits the offense and can serve as an emergency starter, LaMichael James could be a player to watch.
Below I’ve included a couple scouting videos of James: