Sunday, February 27, 2011

Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part VI: Running Backs & Fullbacks

Part six of this series looks at the backfield. The seventh, and final, off-season positional analysis will be on the QBs. I will then roll it all up into an overall off-season plan that takes into account team need, available free agents by position, and draft depth by position. There are really only a few different ways this plays out. I hope to get to that this week, but that's probably a little optimistic. For now, back to the running backs and fullbacks.

Seattle dramatically improved the running back position in 2010 by removing Julius Jones from the roster. He is the worst kind of running back: old, no upside, and unproductive. Justin Forsett was given the chance to be the full-time starter, but it became clear to Pete Carroll that he was not going to be able to carry the load. The trade for Marshawn Lynch felt like a turning point for the offense, but he was mostly ineffective. Forsett shined as a change-of-pace back, and the two appear to be the perfect compliment to one another, on and off the field. Leon Washington was an instant team leader and difference maker on special teams. He was rarely used on offense, but did good things when he got the chance. Most fans will remember Lynch for his Beast Quake run against the Saints, and for good reason. It was possibly the best run in the history of the NFL playoffs. He averaged a scant 3.5 YPC while in Seattle, and did not post a 100-yard game until he played the Saints at Qwest. His running style is kind of a violent waddle, shifting weight back-and-forth from one side to the other. It keeps him from hitting the hole straight ahead at times, and becomes a problem when he is forced to the outside where hard upfield cuts are necessary. Despite some legitimate questions about his long-term viability as a featured back, he will get the chance to run behind a line that is certain to get a ton of attention in the off-season. He and Tom Cable might just be a match made in heaven.

The front office took a chance on the FB spot by releasing Owen Schmitt, who played well for the Eagles. Michael Robinson was a college QB who became a special teams standout as a backup RB, and converted to a FB for the Hawks last year. He's a willing blocker, and made a difference when he was healthy for Lynch. Forsett often runs without a FB, and Jeremy Bates preferred two TE sets. It will be interesting to see whether the team tries to get by with Robinson again, or fill a roster spot with a true FB. Tom Cable didn't carry a FB on the active roster last season, so that's at least one indication the team could go another direction.

2011 Seahawks Free Agents: RB, FB:
  • FB Michael Robinson
  • RB Leon Washington
Seahawks RB, FB Under Contract:
  • RB Justin Forsett
  • RB Marshawn Lynch
Leon Washington could be somewhat of a controversial figure in the Seahawks off-season. He was a key part of the team's surprising division title run last year, is a terrific person, and would be a big loss if he went elsewhere. On the other hand, the team has far more pressing needs with OL, DL, CB, WR, QB, and LB. Signing Washington to a big deal early on could preclude the team from addressing more important areas. The   team will likely have to torment fans by letting Washington test the market (assuming there is one), while they add talent elsewhere. If the Seahawks can meet their goals and still have money to throw at Washington, I'm sure they'd do it. Unless he decides to sign for a significant discount in the next week, there is probably less than a 50/50 shot that he will wear Seahawk Blue again. Take heart, though, since very few Super Bowl teams have ever featured a star returner. It would also open a roster spot to take a young runner or receiver who could double as a returner. Lastly, Golden Tate, Forsett and Ben Obamanu can all handle return duties.

The free agent market for running backs is terrible, and spending free agent money on a position that is so age-sensitive is foolish. Just ask Tim Ruskell. Players like Michael Bush, DeAngelo Williams and Darren Sproles are interesting, but not enough to spend the money they'll demand. 

Expect the Seahawks to largely stand pat in the backfield. They can probably afford to let Washington and Robinson dangle until after the draft to see if they can find younger, cheaper replacements. Odds are that a player like Robinson will be back due his low price tag, value on special teams, and effectiveness with Lynch. It would be a mild surprise to see Washington back. Look for the team to spend at least one draft pick on a running back, or bring in a few undrafted free agents. With Lynch in the last year of his deal, the team would be smart to hedge their bets with a potential future replacement.

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