Chris Carson Has Clearly Been the Seattle Seahawks' Best Running Back
Coming into the season, the Seattle Seahawks' backfield looked like it was going to be a mess to try to sort out.
Thomas Rawls sat atop the depth chart after starting seven games in 2016, but Eddie Lacy was brought on as the team's highest-paid running back, with a 1-year, $4.25 million contract. Second-year back C.J. Prosise was healed up from the fractured scapula that cut his rookie season short, and seventh-round pick Chris Carson earned his way into the conversation with a strong training camp and productive preseason.
Things are far from set in stone after just two weeks of action, but now that we've had the opportunity to see these running backs play in meaningful games, including the chance to look at Rawls in Week 2 (after he missed Week 1 with a high-ankle sprain), we can start to get a grasp on all the moving parts in Seattle's backfield.
Going off what we're seen through two weeks, Carson has been Seattle's best runner, and the rookie should be the Hawks' starting tailback and early-down thumper.
Let's break it down.
The Passing Game
The one thing that seemed like it was all but a lock was Prosise's role as the team's top pass-catcher out of the backfield, and Prosise has filled that role.
The former collegiate wideout saw 19 targets while only playing 147 snaps in six games in 2016, and his 0.91 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target -- an in-house metric we use that you can read more on in our glossary -- was the best mark among the 77 running backs that saw at least 15 targets on the season.
Prosise has held onto that role so far in 2017, leading Seahawks running backs with six targets across the two games, being targeted on 18% of his snaps. The rest of the backfield has only seen three targets (all Carson), and it's hard to see Prosise losing his role in the passing game if he's healthy.
On the Ground
Prosise's usage has been almost entirely in the passing game, though, with only four carries to his name through two games. So that leaves Rawls, Lacy and Carson to fight over the rushing work.
Even with Rawls sidelined in Week 1, Lacy opened the season as the number-three back on the Seahawks' depth chart, playing only 14% of the team's offensive snaps. He was awful when he was on the field as his -0.43 Rushing NEP per carry was the second-lowest mark among the 51 running backs that saw at least 5 carries in Week 1.
Despite the big contract, that ugly Week 1 showing seemed to solidify his role as nothing more than a backup in Seattle, and he wasn't even active for Week 2, bringing his spot on the roster into serious question. Even if Lacy remains a Seahawk moving forward, don't expect him to play any sort of a significant role if this backfield stays healthy.
Rawls is the toughest player in the group to get a read on so far. As I mentioned, he was inactive in Week 1, though he practiced in full and was named the starter in Week 2. He proceeded to play only 20% (16) of the Seahawks' snaps in that game, well behind both Prosise and Carson.
Rawls did see some solid usage when he was on the field, notching five carries in his limited action, but he only managed to run for four yards, with an awful -3.14 Rushing NEP on those carries, per numberFire Live. This inefficiency is nothing new from Rawls as he finished 59th in Rushing NEP per carry among the 77 backs with at least 50 carries in 2016.
That leaves us with the Carson, who drew the start in Week 1 and has led the backfield in both snaps and carries in both games this season.
He played 53% of Seattle's offensive snaps in Week 1, and while he didn't see much volume, he did rack up 39 yards on six attempts, and his 0.05 Rushing NEP per carry ranked 15th in the NFL that week.
That performance was enough to earn him an even bigger role in Week 2, when he played 61% of the snaps despite Rawls' return (and nominal start). Carson ran the ball 20 times in that one, racking up 93 yards and tallying 0.04 Rushing NEP per carry -- another solid performance.
The big question mark is Rawls' health. It's a real possibility that his limited role and inefficiency in Week 2 was in part because he still isn't 100% or not fully back to game shape. He's coming off an inefficient 2016 season, though, and with every week that passes without a big game from Rawls, the hill he has to climb to reclaim the top spot gets more and more steep.
Carson hasn't only looked good compared to his stablemates -- he has been one of the more efficient rushers in the league to start the season. Getting snaps and opportunities is crucial, but Carson has also made the most of that opportunity. It's going to be hard for the Seattle coaching staff to take him off the field unless something changes drastically with either his or Rawls' play.
Carson is the clear-cut favorite to continue to lead the backfield for the remainder of the season, and going by the numbers, he desveres the role.