C.J. Prosise's Fantasy Football Floor Is Worth Reaching for on Draft Day

With the Seattle backfield in a state of flux, rookie C.J. Prosise's role might be the only sure thing in fantasy football.

With the departure of Marshawn Lynch, the Seattle Seahawks' running back corps is in the midst of a full-blown position battle ahead of the 2016 season.

Obviously, if Thomas Rawls was healthy, he’d be the favorite for the lead role following his brief but successful stint as the team’s feature back in Lynch’s stead a season ago. Alas, Rawls is still recovering from a broken ankle that he suffered in early December, and according to a recent report from ESPN, he may miss the entire 2016 preseason.

If that’s true, then it’s tough to imagine that the Seahawks would deploy Rawls and expect him to shoulder a full workload come Week 1.

Perhaps the fact that Rawls’ injury would hold him out of the preseason program was on Seattle’s radar more than they led the general public to believe since the team selected three running backs during the draft in April: C.J. Prosise, Alex Collins and Zac Brooks. They also added USC prospect Tre Madden as an UDFA and resigned veteran Christine Michael.

Let’s pretend for a minute that Rawls was 100 percent healthy and would start Week 1 as Seattle’s bell-cow. Based on his limited receiving experience, the team would still need to employ a more skilled pass-catching option out of the backfield on third downs.

That pass-catching back for Seattle last year was Fred Jackson. In 2015, Jackson hauled in 32 of his 41 targets and only saw 26 rush attempts. His 41 targets marked the most any running back has received other than Lynch dating back to 2013:

SEA RB Targets 2013 2014 2015
Marshawn Lynch 44 48 21
Thomas Rawls - - 11
Fred Jackson - - 41
Christine Michael 0 2 3
Robert Turbin 12 20 -
Bryce Brown - - 2
FBs combined 11 4 2
TOTAL 67 74 80

Since the two heaviest-targeted backs in 2015 are no longer on the team (Lynch and Jackson), about 77 percent of the 80 targets that went to Seattle’s backfield a season ago are now up for grabs.

However, Rawls isn't going to be the main beneficiary of those available looks.

In his senior year at Central Michigan, Rawls recorded 210 rush attempts and just 10 receptions. Last season, he rushed 147 times and hauled in a mere 9 receptions on 11 targets. And while it’s a small sample size, his Reception Net Expected Points (or NEP, which you can read more about in our glossary) contribution was anything but impressive compared to backs with similar workloads in 2015:

2015 Rushing NEP Rank (of 21) Reception NEP Rank (of 21)
Thomas Rawls 12.46 2nd 3.95 19th
Giovanni Bernard 2.28 5th 33.98 1st
DeAngelo Williams 14.32 1st 20.11 5th
Chris Johnson -12.76 18th 2.33 20th

*Study compared 21 total running backs with 140-200 rush attempts and greater than or equal to 10 targets in 2015

Rawls ended the year with a Reception NEP per target of 0.36, which was exactly league average among all backs. But that's also with Russell Wilson throwing him the rock, so it's not as though his pass-catching ability was anything great.

Seattle had identified a specialized need to fill during the draft. They landed their man as coach Pete Carroll revealed, “Going into this draft I was hoping that we would get this guy so we could do the things that we can do with him.”

"This guy" that Carroll is referring to is Prosise. He was the fourth running back off the board late in the third round and has generated some buzz in fantasy circles as a dynasty asset.

But he has the potential to be so much more.

Ahead of the draft in March, I profiled Prosise for and pegged him as a fantasy stud based on what I saw on tape:

Following the draft in May, numberFire’s own Jason Schandl wrote that Prosise could contribute as more than just a change-of-pace backfield piece for Seattle:

It’s not surprising that Prosise’s measurables blow away those of Rawls -- the former is a third-round pick and the latter entered the league as an UDFA. The Notre Dame product is bigger and faster than Rawls, and there’s no question that he is more versatile, a quality that both NFL teams and fantasy football owners covet when identifying potential upside.

Prosise is a converted slot receiver with great hands, polished route running abilities, and an extreme versatility that could lead to a high volume of touches out of the gate. In just 10 games as the feature back last year for Notre Dame, Prosise impressed with his ability to adapt to a new position and ran for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns on 157 carries. He was productive as a receiver, too, with 26 catches for over 300 yards and a score.

Carroll recently gushed over Prosise’s rare skill set:

"He’s really unique. I’ve never had anyone that was a receiver that went to running back that could do both … We put him with the receivers today. He ran one-on-one routes with the receivers today, and he looked normal, as comfortable as the receivers. He does have great speed too. And he is tall. His hands are totally adequate. It’s a real prize for us. I don’t really have a guy to compare him to at this point.”

Some might see this as “coach-speak”, but Carroll isn't being hyperbolic here. The coach is simply stating facts and it's evident that the team is eager to utilize their draft “prize” all over the field. “We have a very special role that we want to put him in,” the coach said of his rookie back.

The Seahawks will probably want to see if Prosise is capable of efficiently running between the tackles, something he did well in college for the short time he served as a feature back. But there is definitely room for improvement. The rookie needs to take advantage of any first team reps he gets with Rawls sidelined this summer. If Prosise has as strong showing, it’s not out of the question that he could get the starting nod in Week 1 especially with Michael reportedly on the roster bubble.

Even if he’s not the starter, though, Prosise’s role as the third-down option is locked in. That role alone creates a floor that is just too enticing to overlook when the middle rounds approach and options at running back grow slim.

So when your league mates are throwing darts at Frank Gore and Melvin Gordon in Round 6 of your redraft league this summer, go ahead and reach for the Notre Dame product with confidence a little after that. You might get some 'WTF' looks from your pals, but rest easy knowing that the rookie’s upside is worth reaching for over any other risky backs your buddies may have stashed away at that point.