2013 Seahawks Off-Season Analysis Part VI: Running Backs & Fullbacks
Seattle fans have come to expect a bonanza every off-season since Pete Carroll and John Schneider have taken over. A full 19 of the 22 starters on offense and defense for the 2013 Seahawks will have been added since those two took over. But this off-season will be different. Few starting jobs are up for grabs. Rookies will struggle to make the roster. Free agents will have to fight for playing time. I will be dissecting the roster position-by-position in an eight-part series, culminating in a recommended off-season recipe for the Seahawks.
State Of The Position
Marshawn Lynch became just the second Seahawks running back to earn 1st-team All-Pro honors by rushing for 1,590 yards in 2012, the third-highest total in team history. Only three players, Lynch, Chris Warren and Shaun Alexander, have eclipsed the 1,500 yard mark in a single season. He did it at the age of 26, and with only 315 carries. By comparison, Alexander had two seasons over 1,500 yards, but he did it with 353 and 370 carries. Alexander’s 2005 season was the only one in team history that involved a higher yards per carry (5.1) than Lynch’s 5.0 from 2012.
It takes an explosive and historic season from your rookie quarterback to push a season like Lynch had into the background. One of the things that made his season so special was his consistency. Most running backs that pile up that much yardage have a few breakout games. Lynch never ran for more than 128 yards in a game. He had ten 100-yard rushing games during the regular season, and an eleventh where he finished with 98 yards. He is a legitimately dominant player at his position.
He answered any questions about his will to play with the same ferocity after getting his new contract. The deal keeps him in Seattle through the 2015 season at a reasonable rate. The biggest question with Lynch is his health.
He did not miss a game in 2012, but he was on the injury report every week with a sore back, and it is not just the team creating an excuse for him to miss practice time. He missed a game in 2011 with back spasms, and the team has played it carefully in terms of limiting his touches. Back problems usually stem from compression. A back that runs like Lynch has his spine compressed a lot. It is just a matter of time until his body rebels and keeps him from continuing. The falloff can happen suddenly.
Marion Barber was a similarly bruising runner for the Cowboys who, like Lynch, had a great season at the age of 26. He was out of the NFL two years later. The front office has to plan for this eventuality, even if most fans think it foolish to worry about a 26-year-old running back coming off his best season.
That’s where Robert Turbin comes in. He had a promising rookie season, even if he only had limited opportunities. He showed a burst, and welcomed contact. It was hard to evaluate his vision, or his breakaway potential without more carries. He did demonstrate that he could be an asset as a receiver and a blocker.
Leon Washington was terrific, as usual, in the return game, earning a Pro Bowl spot. He was also under-utilized, as usual, on offense. Washington turns 31 this year, and is due around $3M. He is one of my favorite people and players on this roster, but it does not make sense to use a roster spot on an older running back with a higher salary. That has nothing to do with Washington as a person, or his potential to be productive in 2013. The team does not use him enough to merit the cost of keeping him or the risk of not developing a second young running back.
Michael Robinson becomes a free agent after the upcoming season when he will turn 31. He is due $2.5M in 2013, and that should get paid after another strong year in 2012. The role of the fullback continues to be a question for Seattle. Robinson played in only 32% of the snaps. He was effective in the time he had, converting a number of key short yardage runs and catching 13 of the 15 passes thrown his way. The team could decide to bring in an understudy this year. Vai Taua was a promising young fullback in training camp this past season who was injured in the final pre-season game.
Signing free agent running backs is among the worst things a front office can do. This is a position that has the smallest shelf life in the NFL, and is the easiest to replenish through the draft. Spending money on players who have already played at least three or four years just does not make a ton of sense. There are times when a role player like Kregg Lumpkin gets added (and then cut), but nothing worth spending time analyzing.
It is not clear the Seahawks have a breakaway threat in the backfield. Adding some true speed, even if the player only gets 5-7 snaps per game, could have a real impact on the offense. The Seahawks will not spend a pick above the fourth round on this position. Fullbacks are often available outside the draft, so it is less likely to expect the team to spend a draft choice there.
The state of the Seahawks backfield is good. They have a young star coming off his best season under contract, a promising young player behind him and a Pro Bowler as the third string option. Their fullback has performed at a near-Pro Bowl level, and shows no signs of slowing down. The team does not need to make any changes to this group for 2013.
The places they may look to upgrade are the third running back spot and the fullback spot. It would be nice to add some more explosiveness to the back-field, but that will only happen if the right player slips to later in the draft. They may already have their next fullback waiting in the wings with Taua. It is not a highly competitive position in today’s NFL, so most front offices do not feel an urgent need to find the next guy.
Look for the Seahawks to add at least one young runner to the mix in training camp with a real shot to challenge Washington.