With the 2022 NFL Draft in the books and Free Agency mostly wrapped up, we can turn our attention to the upcoming season. Throughout the off-season, I’ll be looking at some position groups that featured new additions and could have a new look come September. Today I’m moving on to the Seahawks and focusing on the run game. The Seahawks under Pete Carroll have traditionally been a stout rushing team, and 2022 should be no different. But who will carry the load?
The 2021 Seahawks Backfield
Despite a down year, the Seahawks were a strong rushing team again in 2021. The team only had 413 carries, which was bottom third, but turned it into 2,074 yards, 18 touchdowns, and a 5.0 yards per carry average, all top third in the league. The touchdown and yards per carry were even Top 10. But the Seahawks used a team of players to get there, with six running backs earning carries and four earning starts throughout the season.
It started with Chris Carson, the veteran who signed a two-year deal prior to the season. Carson started four games, rushing for 232 yards and three touchdowns. A neck injury ended his season, sending the Seahawks looking for other options. That began with veterans Adrian Peterson (who started a game) and Alex Collins, who started six games and rushed for 411 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Seahawks’ rushing game hit its stride when Rashaad Penny returned to the lineup and exploded. A former First Round pick, Penny started six games and added a great deal of punch to the Seahawks’ ground game. He carried 119 times, rushing for 749 yards and six touchdowns. He also posted an outstanding 6.3 yards per carry average, which is likely a big part of the efficiency of the Seahawks’ running game as a team in 2021. Aside from Penny, Travis Homer and Deejay Dallas saw time in the backfield.
Ken Walker III
It’s been a big off-season in Seattle. The Seahawks began the off-season by trading franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos. They got back a package of picks in addition to quarterback Drew Lock, tight end Noah Fant and defensive tackle Shelby Harris. The Seahawks used one of their picks—an early Second Round selection—to snag Michigan State running back Ken Walker III in the draft.
Walker began his college career at Wake Forest, where he was a part of the rushing attack. He had 579 yards rushing each of his two seasons but added 13 touchdowns in 2020. In 2021, Walker transferred to Michigan State and found a feature role, where he thrived. He rushed for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns, catching 13 passes for 89 yards. He was viewed as one of the better rushing prospects in the draft, going early in the Second to the Seahawks. His addition gives the Seahawks’ backfield another weapon and creates plenty of questions.
The 2022 Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks are rolling into Training Camp with a loaded running back room. Carson remains on the roster, while Penny re-signed and Walker was added in the draft. In addition, the team still has Homer, Dallas, Darwin Thompson, and Josh Johnson. That’s a lot of backs, which creates some questions about usage.
The first question is Carson’s availability. He missed most of the 2021 season with a neck injury and had surgery in December. While he’s still under contract and has been a workhorse for the Seahawks in the past, it’s unclear when—or if—he’ll be healthy enough to return. As recently as late April, Carroll gave an ominous update on his potential to be ready to play in 2021. Re-signing Penny and drafting Walker would also suggest the Seahawks aren’t planning to have Carson available.
Penny showed real flashes to end the 2021 season, finally looking like the feature back some expected to see when he was drafted in the First Round in 2018. Penny’s contract expired after the season, but he re-signed with the Seahawks. The deal is for one-year and $5.75 million, indicating he will be involved in 2022 but possibly not in the future. That feels even more relevant after Walker was drafted.
Then there’s Walker, who would seem to be the kind of bell-cow back the Seahawks like and a young player on a multi-year contract. Walker has been a Top 5 pick in rookie drafts, indicating the expectation that he’ll be a big part of the rushing attack. But will it be a two or three-headed monster?
I think drafting Walker and re-signing Penny tell us all we need to know about Carson. I don’t think he’s ready by the start of the season, and I suspect he’ll be unavailable most of the season. That leaves the focus on Penny and Walker, and I think both will end up involved in the attack for the Seahawks.
Penny looked great to end 2021, but it marked his most starts, most carries, and most yards of his professional career. Penny was limited to 37 games total in his four seasons, not playing more than ten games in any season since his rookie year. I think he starts the year as the nominal starter, but Walker will be involved. I also suspect that Walker will be the feature back in the backfield by the middle of the season. A couple of the other backs on the roster currently will likely make the final 53 and contribute this season, but the fantasy value will be with Penny early and likely Walker later in the season.
Matthew Fox is a member of the FSWA. He’s a die-hard NFL Fan and Broncos’ Homer. 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.