I am a jerk. It is true. Ever since J.D. McKissic made his splashy first appearance of the season last Sunday, my mind has been preoccupied with hoping he gets more chances this weekend in Los Angeles. That does not sound all that terrible on the surface, but part of the way he will get those chances is if C.J. Prosise is unable to make it back to full health this week. As much as I have defended–and will continue to defend–Prosise, I found myself hoping he needed one more week to heal. Seattle needs to see if McKissic can be the explosive playmaker he appeared to be against the Colts. Given Prosise has yet to practice this week, it appears we will find out.
Pete Carroll always has a vision in mind for what a player can become, and shares that with the player so they can work together to help the potential be realized. When I close my eyes and imagine the best-case scenario for the versatile and explosive McKissic, I see the kind of player who could be the perfect spark for this Seahawks offense. A guy who could take a short pass and turn it into an explosive play. A guy who can be a blur out of the backfield, creating a true change of pace for defenses to contend with. He can be tough enough to be a willing blocker and contributor on special teams either in coverage or in the return game.
It is no wonder why the Atlanta Falcons signed him after the draft last year. He shares attributes with Devonta Freeman and Taylor Gabriel. That is not to say he is either of those players. Gabriel has run a wind-aided 4.27 40-yard dash. McKissic was recorded in the 4.5 range, but claims he was coming off an injury and believes he is in the 4.4 range. Watch him play and it is hard to argue. Even if he is in the 4.5 range, that matches the profile of a guy like Freeman who ran a 4.58. McKissic bested Freeman in the 40, vertical jump (37″ vs 31.5″), broad jump (122″ vs 118″), and the 3 cone agility drill (7 seconds vs 7.11). They are similar athletes. McKissic is a few inches taller. Freeman is heavier.
McKissic appears most special when he is at running back. His runs at a completely different speed than anyone else in the Seahawks backfield. That instant acceleration helps him to hit holes decisively and with authority belying his slight frame. He can also reach the edge in ways Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls cannot. That can allow for the type of diversity in the running game that forces a defense to split their preparation instead of comfortably focusing on standard Seahawks fare.
He was primarily a receiver in college, and that was what the Falcons wanted him to be. I see him as less explosive as a receiver, but part of what stood out about him in training camp was how polished he looked at the position. His routes were crisp and there was very little wasted motion after the catch. This gives Darrell Bevell flexibility in how to utilize McKissic, especially on third downs. He can be a perfect safety valve for Wilson when a play breaks down and he just wants to give someone a chance to make a play.
I expect the Seahawks to increase the opportunities for McKissic this weekend. This Los Angeles Rams defense has struggled to defend all sorts of things so far this year, but running backs who can catch the ball have been of particular trouble. They rank 22nd in the NFL in defending running backs as receivers, per FootballOutsiders.com. Given the almost certain pass pressure problems the Seahawks will face, quick passes to a running back who can create yards after the catch seems like a wise place to funnel some of the offense.
Most of the time when a player goes undrafted, gets released, squeaks onto a roster, and starts the season inactive for three weeks, it is because he either is not a very special player or is still early in development. Sometimes, though, all that player needed was a chance to prove his worth on the field. We saw it with Kurt Warner, Brandon Browner, Chris Clemons, and others. Odds are that McKissic is just a depth player, but beating the odds is what makes life and sport thrilling. We know he has value. He is a lottery ticket with a certain return. We learn this Sunday just how big the jackpot is.