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Third-round pick C.J. Prosise will bring receiving skills to Seahawks’ backfield

C.J. Prosise switched from wide receiver to running back before his final season at Notre Dame. (AP)

RENTON – The running back the Seahawks drafted in the third round Friday has only played the position for one season, which might make you wonder why they spent that high of a pick to get him.

It makes plenty of sense, though, when you consider that Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise is a converted wide receiver, which means he has one of the necessary tools to be an effective third-down back. The Seahawks believe he can eventually become more than a situational player, but with Thomas Rawls returning as Seattle’s primary ball-carrier and Prosise still new to the position, that’s where he can make an impact right away.

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“We’ve had our eye on him throughout,” coach Pete Carroll said after Seattle chose Prosise with the first of its three third-round picks, No. 90 overall. “We hoped we could get him because we have a very special role that we want to put him in.”

Third-down backs are used in passing situations and therefore need to be factors in the passing game, capable of catching and blocking. The first part should come easy. Prosise was a receiver through the 2014 season and a somewhat productive one, leading the Irish with a 17.8 yards-per-catch average that year while making 29 receptions for 588 yards and two touchdowns.

But a need at running back necessitated a switch he said he didn’t resist, figuring it might be his ticket to getting more touches. Prosise entered the 2015 season as a backup and quickly took over when starter Tarean Folston tore his ACL in the opener.

“I got the opportunity to come in and run with it,” Prosise said.

And he did, rushing for 1,032 yards on 156 carries (6.6 average) and 11 touchdowns in only 10 games. He also caught 26 passes for 208 yards and one score.

Prosise is an athletic upgrade over Fred Jackson, who capably served as Seattle’s third-down back last year but wasn’t much of a big-play threat with his diminished speed. Prosise, listed at 6 foot 1 and 220 pounds, ran a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, tied for the eighth-best time among running backs. His 35.5-inch vertical jump and 121-inch broad jump were also among the top eight at that position.

“He’s got breakaway, big-time play speed,” Carroll said.

How quickly Prosise sees the field will depend largely on how dependable he shows he can be in pass-protection. The Seahawks were pleased with what they saw in that regard considering it was a new responsibility for Prosise.

“He did very well,” Carroll said. “That was a consideration, for as little exposure as he has had to it. Physically, he had no trouble. He’s going to have to learn his assignments and stuff, and of course that’ll be a big, big push for us, right from the first day he gets here.”

Prosise came to Notre Dame as a safety and was the Irish’s special teams player of the year in 2014, so he could play as a rookie even if he doesn’t earn the third-down job right away. The Seahawks believe he’ll get bigger, and Carroll said there’s no reason to believe he can’t become an early-down back with time.

“The whole offensive staff is really pumped that we can fit him in,” Carroll said. “We looked for that specific stuff that we can do with a guy, and so we sighted him. The fact that we were able to get him when we did, we were thrilled about it.”