JOHN CLAYTON

Seahawks have the backfield talent, depth to replace Marshawn Lynch

Jul 22, 2016, 8:02 AM | Updated: 9:34 am
John Clayton projects Thomas Rawls to get 16 or 17 carries per game next season as Seattle's lead b...
John Clayton projects Thomas Rawls to get 16 or 17 carries per game next season as Seattle's lead back. (AP)
(AP)

Replacing Marshawn Lynch is a beast of a job for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, but the 2016 draft made it doable.

Instead of loading all the burden on Thomas Rawls and Christian Michael, Carroll is covered by the skills of Seattle’s three drafted running backs: C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins and Zac Brooks. Procise’s skills as a runner and former receiver cement him into being the passing-down back. Collins and Michael are big, physical runners with elusiveness to provide options.

Even though the Seahawks now have one of the youngest backfields in football, it has gained some respect. Pro Football Focus ranked it as the 13th best in the NFL, and that’s without projecting the 2016 draft class. The respect went to Rawls, who, as PFF noted, averaged 3.12 yards after contact per attempt last year, third best among running backs.

Rawls is coming off a broken ankle and has said he should be ready for the start of training camp. The team won’t push him too much and probably will only play him in one preseason game.

As a rookie, Rawls showed he can handle a big workload. He had 19 or more carries in four games. But the days of demanding 20 carries a game from one back are pretty much over.

Let’s look at the Seahawks’ rushing numbers since 2012. Carroll prefers an offense that runs the ball 50 percent of the time or more, and that is his plan for this year. The Seahawks averaged 33.5 rushing attempts per game in 2012, 31.8 in 2013, 32.8 in 2014 and 31.2 last year, Lynch’s last season.

Expect the Seahawks to call plays in which backs hit the hole quicker. One of Lynch’s strengths was that he was as powerful running to his right as he was to his left. Because his mission was to overpower and knock down defenders, he never worried about getting to the hole quickly.

Collins and Michael are the wild cards in the mix. After being traded to Dallas and then being cut by the Cowboys and the Redskins, Michael returned to help the Seahawks’ running game down the stretch before the playoffs while Lynch was recovering from surgery. Collins has similar skills to what David Johnson showed last year with Arizona, although some believe he’s better running inside the tackles.

So how should the carries in Seattle’s backfield break down?

Quarterback Russell Wilson has had anywhere between 94 to 118 rushing attempts in a season, so you would expect him to get six or seven a game. Posise might get three to five as the third-down back.

If the Seahawks average 32 or 33 rushes a game, that leaves about 24 or so for the running-down backs. Figure Rawls to average about 16 or 17 and either Michael or Collins to get about six or seven. If Rawls is not healthy, more carries will shift to Michael or Collins.

Lynch gave the Seahawks’ offense identity and helped carry them into the playoffs and into Super Bowls. Even without him, the Seahawks have the depth of talented back to stay among the best running teams in the league.

Want more John Clayton? Listen on-demand to his weekday and Saturday shows as well as his “Cold Hard Facts” and “Clayton’s Morning Drive” segments on 710 ESPN Seattle. Also, check out his all-new “Schooled” podcast and look for his columns twice a week on 710Sports.com.

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Seahawks have the backfield talent, depth to replace Marshawn Lynch