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Seattle's Best - Evaluating the Chris Carson/Rashaad Penny Duo

Last season, while covering a Seahawks home game on December 2 against the 49ers, I saw how Seattle’s running back situation was shaping up for the future. As the Seahawks won by 27 points, Chris Carson rushed for 69 yards and totaled 108 yards from scrimmage. Rashaad Penny rushed for 65 yards on just seven carries, including a 20-yard TD run.

The numbers alone do not fully reflect what I witnessed that day, though. Russell Wilson was the game’s shining star as he threw four TD passes. But the two running backs established the ideal ground attack they may choose to employ this season, as Carson displayed his usual physical style with an extra zest for additional yardage when defenders tried to close in.

Heading into the 2019 season, fantasy football owners will undoubtedly want to know how to value each of Seattle's talented running backs. Here is my take on the situation.

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Striking a Balance

Penny was a thrilling picture of potential in the open field as a complement to Carson. He said that he enjoyed coming in to work in the open field and on the perimeter after Carson had already banged his way to significant gains.

“I feed off of him. He’ll get the defense tired, and then all I have to do is run by them,” Penny told me after the game.

Then I visited with Carson, and he confirmed that the two RBs could share touches and wear defenses down. “You can’t prepare for just one back. When one guy gets tired, the next guy goes in, and you don’t lose a beat.”

That is very likely the approach Pete Carroll, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will utilize with their RBs in 2019. Look for Carson to be the lead runner but expect to see a lot of Penny in the mix as well.

The Seahawks led the league in rushing last season with Carson leading the way most of the time. He rushed for a career-high 1,151 yards with nine TDs. Mike Davis was the No. 2 guy on the depth chart for most of the year, while Penny flashed at times, but a preseason finger injury slowed his progress, and he also suffered a knee injury late in the year.

Now Davis is gone to Chicago, and the Seahawks only have Carson and Penny in the backfield and, ideally, they would like to see them deliver as their preferred pairing consistently. But considering how Carson has often been linked to injuries, that scenario may not work out consistently.

Carson seeks out contact and likes to punish defenders. He told me that has always been his style and he is never going to shy away from it. Yet that method also leads to him missing time. His rookie season was cut short by an ankle injury and he also missed the first two games of the 2018 campaign. He also had knee surgery this past offseason and has been nicked up at other times, including hip and finger problems last year. In late May, Carroll said Carson would miss a few weeks after the procedure, but there were no indicators of major concern.

Still, those who draft Carson this season are already well aware of his tendency to incur injuries. He is the 26th RB off the board according to FFPC ADPs. He may be Seattle’s starting RB when available, but there is fantasy fear of him losing carries to Penny in addition to being a health risk.

Penny is not far behind at No. 32 in the FFPC ADPs. There is a lot of perceived upside for the second-year RB in Fantasy circles. It has not been forgotten that he was drafted in the first round by the Seahawks last season. If Carson goes down at any point, Penny will have no clear competition for carries in a run-heavy offense. He may also emerge as a much better pass-catching option than Carson.

Penny has drawn some comparisons to Shaun Alexander, who is the greatest Fantasy Football player to ever wear a Seahawks uniform. That is certainly a lofty comparison to a guy who was a major Fantasy superstar a decade and a half ago and was a league MVP. Before we consider Penny in such company, though, we would have to see him become a true featured back first.

But Penny could get the opportunity to be a clear starter this year if Carson goes down at any point. Playing in an offense where he can operate with Wilson in RPO looks frequently, there is a lot of promise for Penny. He can certainly show off his best form if he gets into regular rhythms as a ball carrier.

In their most successful seasons, Wilson paired with Marshawn Lynch as one of the league’s most feared QB/RB combos. The Seahawks have been looking to effectively replace Lynch since, and Penny was likely drafted with rekindling that sort of pairing in mind. Carson has been undoubtedly been impressive when starting, but Penny could be the future very soon as the team’s top runner. For those versed in Seahawks team history, Ricky Watters eventually gave way to Alexander.

 

Conclusion

If both RBs stay healthy, it may be hard to predict who will be the best fantasy RB on a regular basis and could put both of them in flex territory. But Penny clearly has significant upside for 2019 and if he gets a chance to seize the starting job, he could conceivably cement himself as the clear No. 1 guy for good if he breaks out. It may just be a matter of time before he steals Carson’s spot on the depth chart.

I am seeing Carson go in the fourth round of many early drafts. If he plays most of the schedule and hangs on to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, he should be worth that sort of draft stock. But Penny could skyrocket from a sixth-round slot.

Carson has to avoid further injury issues in 2019 to keep a firm hold on his current status. If he does not, Penny could become the next Seattle star RB sooner than later. The Seahawks may want a Carson/Penny duo to keep defenses off balance with their unique styles while wearing them down. But a different RB future may be in store for them in the near term.

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