For the first time since 2017, Chris Carson is not expected to lead the Seahawks backfield.
Carson will retire from the NFL after playing five seasons in Seattle. The 27-year-old is quitting after suffering a neck injury that caused him to miss all but four games of the 2021 NFL season.
At first, Carson was optimistic that he could play during the 2022 season.
“Oh, we’re just about to go,” Carson said in June, per NFL Network. “I watch myself play until I want to quit. My attitude is never give up. So I stay positive like I said and keep fighting and getting back on the field.”
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However, Carson failed with the Seahawks and decided to retire afterwards. He won’t issue an official retirement statement if his injured neck “improves dramatically,” according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Chris Carson won’t be issuing a resignation statement just in case his neck improves dramatically. But here it is. … And the #Seahawks, like they did with Cliff Avril, Kam Chancellor and others, make sure he gets his money. That’s the official name. https://t.co/pkZ23t7fWE
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 26, 2022
Carson was a seventh-round pick by Oklahoma State in the 2017 NFL draft. He had 3,502 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns on 769 career carries. That included two seasons with over 1,000 rushing yards. He also added 107 catches, 804 receiving yards and seven touchdowns as a receiver.
Carson’s departure will leave a small hole in the Seahawks’ backfield. They’ve been used to playing without him for the past few seasons – he’s missed 17 games in his last two seasons in the league – but now they’ll officially have to switch to another workhorse in order to become the No. 1 running back room. They also removed Alex Collins from the list after he led the team with 257 snaps at the 2021 position.
How is the Seahawks’ RB depth chart doing? Here’s a breakdown of the backs they have on the list and who’s being asked to replace Carson’s role at the top of the depth chart.
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Seahawks RB depth map
Seattle currently has six running backs on its roster following Carson’s departure. Below is a breakdown of which backs will lead the way for the ground-dominating Seahawks in 2022.
1. Rashad Penny
Penny is considered the greatest benefactor after Carson’s departure. The former first-round pick of the 2018 NFL draft was largely considered a bust before he came on the scene as a starter at the end of the 2021 NFL season.
Penny made six starts in 2021 and recorded at least 137 rushing yards in four of them. He dominated on the floor for five games and finished the season with a career-high 190 rushing yards against the Cardinals.
The Seahawks re-signed Penny in the 2022 NFL offseason and will likely make him their lead. He averaged a league-best 6.3 yards per carry last season while recording 749 yards and six touchdowns on 119 rushes. He has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, only surpassing 10 games once in four seasons. If he can avoid injury, he should have a chance to break the 1,000-yard mark behind better blocks.
2. Kenneth Walker III
Of course, Penny won’t be the only defender in the Seahawks backfield. Pete Carroll likes to ride the hot hand, but he still uses multiple runners each week. That gives Walker a chance to establish himself as a solid 1B option behind Penny’s 1A.
Walker was the Seahawks’ third pick in the 2022 NFL Draft and was selected in the second round as the 41st overall pick. He enjoyed stellar collegiate careers at Wake Forest and Michigan State, making waves on the ground at the latter with a 1,636-yard, 18-touchdown season for the Spartans.
Walker finished sixth in the 2021 Heisman poll, is a good size 5-10, 210 pounds and completed a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at the 2022 NFL combine. He will start his career as a backup for Penny, but it remains possible that Walker could emerge as a starter during his rookie season, depending on Penny’s performance and health.
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3. DJ Dallas
Dallas’ main role at Seattle wasn’t offense in his first two seasons. He was a key special teams player for the Seahawks and recorded the third most special teams snaps on the team in 2021. He will continue to make an impact in this area and will therefore be active on matchdays.
However, the Seahawks have used the 23-year-old Dallas sparingly as a runner. He had 138 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries last year, good for a career-best 4.2 yards per carry. The 5-10, 214-pound back is a fine depth player who can be a back-up runner when injured. However, the Seahawks would almost certainly prefer to use him solely as a playmaker for special teams.
Homer actually played 20 more offensive snaps than Dallas last season and rushed for 338 yards on 37 touches. That was good for an average of 9.1 yards per touch, including an 8.4 yards per carry mark.
Of course, Homer’s numbers were skewed a bit by a 73-yard run he had on one of his 21 carries. Without that play, however, he was still averaging 5.2 yards per carry, allowing him to outperform Dallas in his limited tries between tackles.
The 23-year-old homer ranked fifth on the team in Special Teams snaps and is a little more explosive off the backfield. He and Dallas are pretty even and actually similar in that they both went to Miami, are 5-10 and are primarily special teams guys. Both are solid depth pieces that should stay on the list, and each will have handcuff value if Penny or Walker gets hurt. Dallas only ranks ahead of Homer because he’s a little fatter at 214 pounds compared to Homer’s 202.
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Not to be confused with well-travelled Seattle quarterback Josh Johnson is a 24-year-old who the Seahawks signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2021 NFL draft. He was called up from the practice team last year due to injuries but didn’t play an offensive snap.
Johnson recorded one tackle on 38 special teams snaps and appears to be buried on the depth chart this year. Considering Seattle relies on their backs to play special teams, he could earn a role as a fourth string option if someone goes down in front of him. More likely, however, is that Johnson is fighting for a spot on the practice team and will have no fantasy value whatsoever in 2022.
6. Darwin Thompson
Thompson was once a popular fantasy sleeper. He was selected in the sixth round by the Chiefs in the 2019 NFL Draft and was scheduled to fight for touches in Andy Reid’s backfield.
Thompson averaged just 225 yards and two touchdowns on 64 carries in 2019 and 2020. That was good for a meager 3.5 yards per carry. The 25-year-old has not played a regular-season game since 2020 but has served time on the Bucs and Chiefs practice teams. At 5-8, 200 pounds, Thompson will have a hard time finding a role on Seattle’s offense.
Will the Seahawks sign a veteran free agent running back?
The Seahawks are unlikely to immediately attempt to fill the void left by Carson. Penny, Dallas, and Homer are all familiar with the Seahawks’ system, and they could take a look at what they have in Walker III depending on how quickly he collapses.
Seattle could turn to Carlos Hyde or Alex Collins on the open market, both of whom are well versed in the Seahawks’ plant.
Also, don’t expect Le’Veon Bell or Adrian Peterson (also a former Seahawk, hardly) to walk through that door even though their boxing match has been postponed.