Last season, with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny coming off injuries, the theme for Seattle seemed to be Let Russ Cook. The philosophy was to turn quarterback Russell Wilson and the pass offense loose. The team finished 12-4 and won the NFC West but fell to the Rams in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. In the wake of that loss, Head Coach Pete Carroll suggested in 2021; he wanted to put more emphasis on the run.
With Carson and Penny returning and both healthy, this return to a run-heavy offense could be a boon to fantasy players. But who is the best bet for fantasy?
The Dynamic Duo
In 2020, Carson led the Seahawks with 681 rushing yards and five TDs. He added 37 receptions for 287 yards and four TDs. That was good enough to finish as RB19 even in just 12 games. It was also his lowest output of rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in three seasons as a starter. That reflected both his struggle to stay healthy and an emphasis on the pass. The Seahawks re-signed Carson this off-season, suggesting he’ll remain the lead guy in the backfield.
In 2020, Penny was MIA. He appeared in just three games, carrying 11 times for 34 yards. The complimentary back for the Seahawks was veteran Carlos Hyde, who appeared in 10 games, starting one, and rushed for 356 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries. He also had 16 receptions for 93 yards, finishing as RB57. Hyde is in Jacksonville now, leaving Penny to resume his role in 2021. When Penny and Carson were last on the field together, they made for a good team.
In 2019, both backs carried the load until getting injured late in December. Carson appeared in 15 games and rushed for 1,230 yards and seven TDs on 278 carries. He also caught 37 passes for 266 yards and two TDs. He finished as RB12. Penny, meanwhile, appeared in 10 games and carried the ball 65 times for 370 yards and three touchdowns. He caught eight passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, finishing as RB59. Once a first-round pick, Penny had his best finish in 2018, his rookie season when he saw 85 carries for 419 yards and two touchdowns.
The Seahawks figure to lean on Carson and Penny as the primary runners, but the team has other options as well. DeeJay Dallas is entering his second year, and veteran Alex Collins has been a mainstay. Both contributed in 2020. Dallas, who appeared in 12 games, saw 34 carries for 108 yards and two touchdowns, catching 11 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown. Those receptions in limited time are more than Penny has had in any of his three seasons.
Collins is a veteran who has had some flashes in the past. He began his career in Seattle, then had a couple of strong years in Baltimore with the Ravens in 2017-2018. Collins rushed for 1,384 yards and 13 TDs in those two seasons. He was out of football in 2019 and returned to the Seahawks in 2020. Collins had 18 carries for 77 yards and two touchdowns in three games returning to Seattle and gives them a viable option to carry a load.
The 2021 Backfield
The Seahawks produced 1,971 rushing yards in 2020, but 513 yards came from Russell Wilson. In 2018, the team had 2,560 rushing yards, and in 2019, it was 2,200 rushing yards. So, it’s reasonable to expect the Seahawks to snap back to a better rushing attack in 2021 after a down year in 2020. And that means better production for whoever ends up the lead back.
In 2019, Carson was RB12 in that role, finishing as RB15 in that role in 2018, when he ran for more than 1,100 yards. I suspect that he’ll return to form in 2021, playing in at least 14 games and going for more than 1,000 yards. That leaves him as a mid-to-high-end RB2 with RB1 upside, an improvement on his RB21 ADP.
An argument against that is the emergence of the Seahawks’ passing game, particularly Lockett and Metcalf. But in 2019, even with Carson rushing for more than 1,200 yards, Lockett and Metcalf saw 100-plus targets. And Wilson finished with 4,110 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. Adding a strong running game doesn’t kill the Seahawks’ passing game; it compliments it. And with little depth behind Lockett and Metcalf and undefined options at tight end, each receiver could see 150 targets a piece and still have balance in the Seattle offense.
While Carson figures to take a step forward in a more balanced offensive attack, the question is Penny. He hasn’t made a huge impact in any of his three seasons, and I don’t think he will here, either. At best, he’ll return RB4 value. But I suspect Dallas could eat into the receiving work, and Penny could end up sharing carries with Collins. While I like Carson in 2021, I’m fading the rest of this backfield in terms of consistent fantasy value.
Matthew Fox is a die-hard NFL fan and Broncos’ homer. He’s a member of the FSWA. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 or as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton network.