Chris Carson looked like a revelation last year when he was inserted as the Seattle Seahawks starting running back as a 7th round rookie. He shot past veterans Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls, but that was cut short when he broke his leg in the 4th game. The Seattle running game was abysmal for the rest of the year, as Russell Wilson led the team in rushing yards and Carson almost finished the year leading in yards among running backs despite the shortened season.
It was against that backdrop of rushing ineptitude, and Carson coming back from that leg injury, that the team decided to draft Rashaad Penny at the end of the first round.
The conventional thought when a rookie is drafted in the first couple of rounds is that they are going to be the lead back. It doesn’t always work out that way, though. And when it doesn’t, it can provide huge fantasy value by taking the other guy. As I detailed last year in showing where the biggest fantasy booms at running back came from, it is often from teams with rookie running backs, but not necessarily from the rookies themselves.
DeAngelo Williams was the #1 overall running back in 2008 when the Panthers drafted Jonathan Stewart (and Stewart was being drafted earlier on average). Knowshon Moreno had been viewed as a disappointment and the Broncos drafted Montee Ball, but it was Moreno who finished 5th in RB rankings in 2013. Thomas Jones held off Shonn Greene in New York and was huge value in 2009. Devonta Freeman was being drafted behind rookie Tevin Coleman in 2015, but had his breakout year.
Could Chris Carson be next?
By early average draft position rankings, Rashaad Penny is going about 20th at RB and 42nd overall, and Carson is going 47th at RB and 135th overall. That’s about eight rounds later in a 12-team draft. But should that gap be significantly closed, or maybe reversed?
Here’s Greg Bell’s report from Seahawks camp for the News Tribune.
Through two practices and Saturday’s first off day of training camp, Carson is so far ahead of where he was at any point in his impressive rookie year. And he’s clearly ahead of Penny.
Carson has been the most physically impressive Seahawk on either side of the ball. He’s not running as much as he is gliding. And this is a thoroughbred. He gained 10 pounds while rehabilitating this offseason. He’s listed at 5-11, 220 pounds. But he’s moving faster and looking leaner yet more formidable than that.
“He has been remarkably fit,” coach Pete Carroll said.
Then the coach gushed Carson is “a beautiful looking athlete out here.”
Bell goes on to also say that Carson has the decided advantage because of the passing game, not just because of catching but because of his understanding of the pass protection schemes and knowledge of blocking.
You never know when these early depth chart reports are fluff or real. Often, coaches will bury a rookie on the official depth chart even though we all know that the rookie will be playing. I’m not even paying attention to where the Giants put Saquon Barkley versus Jonathan Stewart. But Penny is not Barkley as a prospect, and this isn’t just a depth chart thing. By early accounts, Chris Carson looks like he’s back and better, and that counts for something.
This battle will be something to watch, but I’m going counter to the early ADPs and will have Carson ahead on my projection. Keeping up on situations like this may provide huge dividends on draft day.