Could LaMichael James make sense for the Seahawks?

Breakin' ankles

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:

vs. Oregon State 2011

2010 Compilation


  1. Ben2

    I live in Eugene, Oregon and watch a fair # of Duck games every year…Oregon’s spread option, run heavy offense has tainted the perception of James and (along with his size) will drop him into the 3rd round…but not the 4th. Some teams will see and value James’ strong inside running – he breaks arm tackles and keeps moving froward. He has a little of the Beastmode in him (the “fearlessness” you mentioned him running with in the article) and will play through pain/injury. He also “makes plays” and is a pretty decent receiver. Let me toot the homer horn on James a bit more and add that he was leader on a good team – you’d always see him talking to the younger players on the sideline to coach/encourage. He’d be a good fit on PC’s team. The Hawks need a linebacker but I’d be fine with James in the 3rd.

  2. kevin mullen

    Isn’t he like a buck eighty five? He needs to seriously gain some weight if he wants to last in the NFL.

    As far as him on the ‘Hawks, it depends. Say if we went first 4 rounds and chose other positions of value/needs and he’s sitting there at 5th round, I’d take a flyer on him. He’s kind of reminds me of Dexter McCluster coming out of college.

    But I’d rather they spend 2nd and 3rd round choices of Doug Martin or Chris Polk, more in the same mold of Lynch. That way, both ‘backs wouldn’t change the rhythm and tempo of the OLine. (Like last year, if seemed like Force kept running into our lineman because he’s so much quicker once the ball is in his hands, not sure if he just wasn’t as patient as Lynch.)

  3. cliff

    I was wondering what you think about the idea that the Hawks will sign MLB Curtis Lofton from Atlanta. He’s 26 and highly productive and then we can concentrate on an OLB and depth there. Do you see that as a possibility instead of resigning Hawthorne?

  4. Misfit74

    Answer: Yes.

    Upgrade at RB2 and impact passing-down back and return man able to be had in round 3-4. Been in favor of something like this for awhile now. Thumbs UP.

  5. Don

    Absolutely Yes!

    He is a threat on every play, who can take it all the way. Defenses would have to be aware of when he is in the game and scheme against him. He can take break one to the end zone every time he touches the ball. He is better than Foresett, because he has the speed and the shiftiness. He can squeeze through tight openings in a hurry, and change directions because of good field vision.

    He was also the Texas State H.S. 100 meter champion. He is also a very good football player and leader, and I hope the Hawks take him in the 3rd, if he lasts that long.

  6. Nate Dogg

    I love love love James to Seattle, he seems to fit a lot of what Schneider and Carroll look for in a football player. He’s athletic, he’s tough, he’s productive. He has size concerns but Lynch can allow them to keep him from taking too much load while utilizing some of his versatility. Add in Pete’s PAC 12 experience and it seems like one of the more obvious fits in the draft.

  7. Vin

    I’ll have to agree with Kevin. Richardson is my first choice, but I’m really liking Martin. I’m sure James will do well for whatever team he’s drafted by, but I’d rather have a back more in the mold of Marshawn, than a change of pace. I wonder if James adds another 15lbs, will he be just as fast and more durable? That’s why I like Martin……hes an inch taller than James, but has roughly 30lbs on him……almost a ray rice clone.

  8. Dave

    This is something I suggested waaayyy back in earlier blogs when we were first discussing RB options. He would complement Lynch so well. I guess he is just now getting mentioned because he plays for the Ducks or something. Some people mention his size but I know another someone (Darren Sproles) who actually is quite good, and the two’s physical traits are pretty similar. Sproles was a huge part of the Saints success this last season, and when he was with San Diego he helped carry that team too. We talk about quickness LaMichael has blazing speed, something we could really use to balance out Lynch’ power. We need to release Forsett period. Although is would be great to get Trent Richardson, I can almost promise you the newly draft showered Rams will take him to block any sort of pickup we could do. LaMichael James is exciting and would really help creating a dynamic running game for Seattle. I’m not worried about him getting busted up, I think he is a pretty smart runner. While we are talking Ducks why haven’t we spent more time talking about Darron Thomas!! The guy could really be a great player, and everyone is so concerned about the other incoming QB’s that nobody seems to mention him. He out did every incoming QB at the combine, and his play style would work for our team. Maybe people don’t like to give credit to Oregon players out in Seattle, but LAMICHAEL JAMES and DARRON THOMAS would be excellent pick ups for this team!!

  9. Dave

    I still believe we should get Cousins, but it would be nice to maybe get Darron Thomas in deeper rounds. There is no hype about him at all so I can see him slip through to much later rounds.

  10. Stuart

    Dave, the Darren Sproles comparison is perfect! My brother graduated at Oregon and becuase of that I have become a duck fan. It would be exiting have the RB James. Not just for the backfield but as a return man too. Leon Washington has done a fine job to this point but he is getting older (football years). Will he be 30 next season? If there is no interest in Thomas, the Hawks should draft him at least in the 7th round to insure we will have the first chance at his emense potential. Good post Dave.

  11. Ben2

    We could get rid of Washington & Forsett if we had James

  12. Tom T.

    It sure seems that those scat back RB’s are easy to find each year in the draft. Someone like Polk would be such a strong compliment to Lynch if we could get him in round 3. If Lynch had another last minute scratch due to back spasms, it wouldn’t be a problem with someone like Polk to take over and cary the ball 25 times. I think we should wait until Leon Washington starts to slow down before we worry about his replacement.

  13. Dave

    Tom T you think LaMichael James is a dime a dozen?! I wouldn’t place him as an every year scat back. Bet he gets his weight up and becomes an electrified playmaker! Someone will be very fortunate to have him. Especially since the NFL has become more passer centric.

  14. kevin mullen

    Ben2 got a point, he could be our KR/PR, at least an alternate if LW or Golden couldn’t due to injury/performance.

    He’s got playmaking abilities, no doubt. But we’d have to be certain we’re not retaining LW beyond this season. Golden will be a RF next year, so he’ll sure to be around for another…

  15. Dave

    I know Hutch is 35 but he got released by the Vikes. Just sayin…

  16. Jeff M.

    Sorry to be a downer but James does *not* profile well to a Sproles/Reggie Bush role.

    The reason: he’s entirely unproven as a passing threat. He’s never caught more than 17 passes in a season (passing to the back just isn’t part of the Oregon offense) and has never been asked to run routes (either out of the backfield or split out into the slot). By contrast, Chris Polk (who is thought of as a physical inside runner only), caught almost twice as many passes last year as is *much* more developed as a route-runner.

    Maybe James can show some ability in the passing game in workouts, but there’s nothing on tape to project. He’s clearly great on draw plays, but I don’t know that he’s shown the ability to do more than that (and Sproles and Bush, plus other potential comparions like Forte or F Jackson, get a lot/most of their value as receivers, not just running 3rd down draws).

  17. AlaskaHawk

    How about Cyrus Gray? he is fast and can catch the ball.

  18. Dave

    Such a Debby downer Jeff…Polk is kinda slow no huge gains. I think Polk is a little over rated if you ask me. That ones on the house. Anything extra will cost ya.

  19. Misfit74

    Besides James I also like Cyrus Gray. Hillman is another COP option. I like Doug Martin, too, but think he’s probably off the board between our 1st and 2nd rounders and we’re not picking him at 12. I guess it depends on what other teams do and how they view Miller and Wilson. All three are competing for draft status after Richardson as potential every-down guys vs. the COP guys like James, etc.

  20. Williambryan

    It’s been reported(speculated) that the hawks are targeting san diego rb Tolbert In FA. If they get him I think that would almost certainly mean a scat back type would be drafted. I think Carroll would really like to have a thunder and lightning type combo like he had in the glory days of USC. (lendale white=lynch and Tolbert as the backup passing down specialist, and Bush= would have to be a draft pick)

  21. OZ

    Pead is a player to consider in the third or possibly forth round. with the depth at RB I think they may wait until the forth round.

  22. Hawk O'War

    Would be a good replacement for Forsett. But my first choice obviously would be Richardson. If we get our LBs/ DEs, QB in order!

  23. Kip Earlywine

    @Kevin Mullen: James weighed in at 194 at the combine.

    @Williambryan: Man, I hope not. Wasn’t Tolbert the guy that repeatedly fumbled the game away and allowed Seattle to steal a win from San Diego a couple years ago?

  24. Misfit74

    I 2nd the idea of Pead. I think a lot of teams like him, though, while a guy like Rainey or Hillman could be that Sproles-ish type but not cost the draft-capital of some of the other guys. I’d love Lam James, though, even if it cost a 3rd.

  25. Andrew Longsden

    Finally! someone else preaching from the same hymn sheet as me. I thought I was a crazy brit thinking the pacy alternative James could offer with lynch being number one was too good to pass up.

    Justin forsett is in the same ilk but i believe James is a better player and a 3rd round pick is fair placing for a position we are not completely desperate for but could do with strenthening in the backup.

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