Running Forwards

By Jared Stanger

The bad news is: the top running back Seattle drafted in the 2016 draft is out (again) with a probably broken scapula, the fan-favorite running back making his NFL debut fresh off the practice squad took an ankle sprain, the second-highest drafted running back in 2016 was inactive (and no one seemed to mind), and Christine Michael is now a Packer.

The good news is: Thomas Rawls came back and showed much of the same decision-making and tough running that we all fell in love with in 2015, AND the 2017 RB draft class is pretty rich.

So while the questions for the immediate future may seem bleak, the answers for the long-term may be very hopeful. Let’s take a pretty comprehensive look at “RB: 2017”.

Most draft outlets have Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook the 1-2 backs off the board. We won’t worry about where or which order as their price’s are a little too rich for my blood. The next tier is Christian McCaffrey and Royce Freeman. I’m not wholly convinced that McCaffrey declares early.

Freeman opened the year looking very similar to what he looked like in 2015: 37 carries for 325 yards (8.78ypc), and 4 TD. Then, five carries into his third game (vs Nebraska), Royce suffered a slight injury causing him to miss the Colorado game. After looking fine in game #5, Freeman seemed to get hurt again when he played Washington. In the three games following UW; Royce averaged: 0.67 ypc, 2.24 ypc, 3.80 ypc. Each of those marks were lower than the lowest Freeman had recorded since the 2014-2015 National Championship game against Ohio State.

In his two most recent games, Freeman has seemed to be rounding back into early season form; rushing for 240 yards on 40 carries.

Freeman is a big, sturdy back with good but not great speed. He does most of his damage with power and intelligent cut choices. I tend to think of Freeman as similar to 2015 draftpick, and current Miami Dolphin, Jay Ajayi.

This is Freeman from his very impressive second game of 2016:

Draftscout lists Royce at #35 overall. Not worth taking in the 1st, but too valued to get late in the 2nd when Seattle picks again. Probably not a fit.

Up next is Texas BIG back D’Onta Foreman. This is the RB currently leading the country in rushing while rapidly approaching a 2000-yard season. At 6’1″/249 lbs, Foreman is built like a tank. And as a tank, he’s been one of the healthiest backs in the country all year. Foreman missed week #2 with a groin injury, but has otherwise posted at least 17 carries in every game, with an average of 29.20 carries/game. And Foreman has run for at least 100 yards in every game in which he has appeared this year (low of 124, high of 341).

Foreman (a Junior) has said as recently as November 2nd that he intends to return for his senior season, but perhaps a Heisman finalist and/or the loss of coach Charlie Strong could sway him towards declaring.

Foreman is predominantly an upright stance runner, but that is to be expected at 250lbs. He does his damage breaking tackles with power, but has a good amount of speed and balance as well.

Draftscout puts Foreman at #49 overall…middle of 2nd round. Still pricey.

Draftscout lists Samaje Perine at #72 and Jeremy McNichols at #75…this is a good range for Seattle to really start considering RB (actually in the 60’s), but I have trouble seeing either of Perine/McNichols as Seahawks. The more interesting talent is actually Perine’s teammate Joe Mixon, but his baggage concerns me. Mixon is essentially RB Frank Clark.

If you think the team culture has settled Clark, and could do it again…Mixon is the right size (6’1″/226), the right talent (157 carries, 1080 yards, 6.90 ypc, plus 30 catches, and top 20 in kickoff returns), at the right price. But that’s a big ‘if’. Also a big ‘if’: will Mixon declare as a redshirt sophomore.

Another guy that currently checks off the right size and the right price: Nick Chubb. Draftscout has him at #79 overall. A year and a half ago you would absolutely take Chubb at that value, if he even got out of the 1st round. These days, after a gruesome knee injury and it’s resulting rehab, Chubb hasn’t been quite the same player.

While his 900 yards in 2016 seem pretty good in the context of his recovery; the 4.86 ypc this year is a massive dropoff from the 8.12 ypc pre-injury 2015 and 7.06 ypc as a true freshman.

Whereas Chubb used to have a great mix of power and cutting, now he’s far more “one-cut and get downhill”. The top speed still looks good, but the acceleration isn’t as special.

With Seattle currently dealing with so many RB injuries, I’m less inclined to take this high of a pick on a player with this injury history. If Chubb falls a couple rounds…then you reconsider.

Now we start to come to a pretty interesting tier of backs. By projection these are guys pushing late 3rd round to late 4th round, currently. We’re looking at Wayne Gallman (#89), Elijah Hood (#110), Brian Hill (#127), and I’m making editorial decision to bump Kareem Hunt up (from #153).

Wayne Gallman is 6’0″/210 lbs from Clemson, and has rushed 160×830, 5.19 ypc, and 13 TD’s this year. His only injury this year, to my recollection, was a concussion suffered against NC State. Gallman has the blessing/curse of being the feature back on a team where the QB has 107 carries this year. This means his production looks less impressive, but hopefully his wear and tear is less worrisome.

This tape of Gallman vs Louisville is one of my favorite of any RB this year. The cuts are dope, the pass-blocking is some of the best I’ve seen, and it’s just good all-around play.

This run, specifically, is a lot of what I’m looking for:

That’s the good. The bad are the games I’ve seen where Gallman will go long stretches of game running really timidly, really passively. We can’t have that. That’s part of what got CMike run out of town the second time.

Elijah Hood is 6’0″/220 from North Carolina and should be a pretty profound tester at the combine after posting a 133.47 SPARQ out of high school. In 2016 Hood is at 134×802 yards, 5.99 ypc, 8 TD’s, and 24 catches.

Hood has been strangely inconsistent this year. He had 3 consecutive games averaging over 5.87 ypc to start the year, then 3 consecutive games averaging under 3.62 ypc in the second quarter, and is currently riding 4 consecutive games averaging over 5.77 ypc.

The thing about Elijah is that the tape of him fully healthy has some of the same problems I see with Nick Chubb coming back from knee surgery. There’s a lack of fluidity.

Brian Hill is 6’1″/219 lb runner from Wyoming. He’s currently #4 in the country running for 281×1548 yards, 5.51 ypc, 18 TD’s, and 5 catches. Hill is more of that Latavius Murray/Melvin Gordon/CJ Prosise long-legged strider type of runner. These guys often can be brought down with an ankle tackle like a Star Wars AT-ST, they sometimes need a runway, but the long runs are generally majestic.

Kareem Hunt is listed 6’0″/225 lbs (he was 5’11″/215 as a sophomore) from Toledo. He’s posted 220×1155 yards, 5.25 ypc, 7 TD’s, and 36 catches this year.

Kareem is a guy that I was salivating for after 2014, and especially his end of year bowl game performance of 32 carries for 271 yards and 5 TD’s. Then, in 2015, Hunt opened the year in some combination of hurt and out-of-shape, and really never regained 2014 form. I had kind of written him off.

But, lo and behold, it appears he is turning things around in 2016. I’ve only seen him in a couple games, including one that was mostly fogged over by Mother Nature, but Kareem is most definitely back in the Hunt. (Sorry.)

Click through this hyperlink for a full thread of gifs on Kareem:

For whatever reason, that is the size and style of running back that I am most drawn to. It just looks…right. The current projection has him somewhere around the late 5th round, which would (potentially) make him a guy to target as a SECOND running back draft pick this year, AFTER already drafting someone earlier. (I do have a theory that Seattle will draft 2 RB’s this year that I addressed in an earlier post.)

If Kareem isn’t a fit value-wise for either the early RB pick or the secondary RB pick, here are some other thoughts for the secondary option:

James Conner, 6’2″/235lbs, Pittsburgh. 189×945 yards, 5.00 ypc, 14 TD’s, and 18 catches. His cancer-survivor backstory is also all kinds of Seahawky/gritty. #198 overall.

Joe Williams, 5’11″/205lbs, Utah. 158×1088 yards, 6.89 ypc, 9 TD’s, and 8 catches. His draft stock took a hit after he left the Utes’ team midway through this year. #420 overall.

Aaron Jones, generously listed at 5’10″/215lbs, UTEP. Top 10 in the country at 205×1472 yards, 7.18 ypc, 13 TD’s, and 26 catches. A very well-rounded back, Jones is a personal favorite for how hard he runs. If Jones is as big as he’s currently being listed, he’s totally in Seahawks’ prototypical RB size range. If he’s smaller, there has still been some new precedent set by Troymaine Pope making it to the 53-man this week.

Jones is listed as a 4th-year Junior after taking a medical hardship redshirt after playing only 2 games in 2015.

This is 2016 tape vs Texas:

And the run at 2:06 of this edit from 2014 game is one of my favorite college runs of all time:

Jones is not ranked by Draftscout for 2017 draft.

And, finally, perhaps the longest shot of this story…

Jarred Craft, 6’0″/213lbs, LaTech. Craft is a Junior with basically zero buzz that I don’t think will declare early. This is his first year as lead back after the departure of Kenneth Dixon to the NFL. In 2016: 160×980 yards, 6.13 ypc, 7 TD’s, and 34 catches.

Again, another very well-rounded performer in run game and as a receiver, with a very well-proportioned build. Craft reminds me a little of Zac Brooks in his build, but of course Jarred is seeing far more touches.

Craft also not ranked for 2017.

Now, as for which 1-2 on this playlist to truly target…that’s going to be tougher. A lot of the high-end guys have at least one redflag right now. The mid-to-late round guys don’t have much chatter. The combine will help sort out some of that.

It could also help sorting out who/when to target RB by projecting other team priorities and where to take those. Like, if at all possible, you take an OT in the 1st, then look to pull from the depth of the DE class in the 2nd, then you start to think about RB and CB in the 3rd round. I’d totally splash on a 3rd round CB if I knew, say, Kareem Hunt would still be around in the 4th. And then you double-dip with Aaron Jones in the 6th or 7th. As un-sexy as that might read for many of you, I kinda like it.

Two more horses for the stable. And that is how you keep your running backs running forward.