The 2022 Seahawks Backfield Breakdown is part of an offseason series in which I take a deep dive into one NFL team’s backfield and examine the respective rushing performances of the players in it. In doing so, I hope to gain insights into key players from a talent evaluation standpoint, and using that evaluation as a baseline, from a dynasty valuation standpoint. The first installments in the series can be found here.
I’ll start by taking a quick overview of each team’s raw rushing volume and propensity to run the ball in general, and then dive into the player evaluation portion. Before we start, let’s define the metrics I’ll use as part of those evaluations:
Yards per Carry+ (or YPC+)
The degree to which a player’s raw yard per carry average exceeds or falls short of the collective yard per carry average of all other running backs on his team. Meant to be an overview of a player’s team-relative efficiency.
The degree to which the average amount of defenders in the box that a player faces on his runs exceeds or falls short of the collective average faced by the other running backs on his team. Considering that the outcome of any given rushing attempt is largely dependent on the amount of defenders in the box pre-snap, Box Count+ describes the relative degree of difficulty of a running back’s carries.
Breakaway Conversion Rate (BCR)
Quantifies performance in the open field by measuring how often a player turns his chunk runs of at least 10 yards into breakaway gains of at least 20 yards.
Box-Adjusted Efficiency Rating (BAE Rating)
Improves upon YPC+ by accounting for the box counts that a player carried the ball against. Looks at team-relative yards per carry against each individual box count, then uses a weighted average (based on total carries against each box count) to generate an overall score. A score of 100-percent indicates that a player is producing exactly the per carry output of his teammates, a score above 100-percent indicates that he is outdoing their per carry output to whatever degree, and vice versa for a score below 100-percent.
Relative Success Rate (RSR)
Measures player consistency using Success Rate, but relative to his teammates and adjusted for the box counts that he faced in the same way that BAE Rating is. “Success” on a given carry is defined by gaining 40-percent of yards needed on first down, 70-percent of yards needed on second down, and 100-percent of yards needed on third or fourth down. A score of 0.0-percent indicates that a player is succeeding on exactly the same percentage of his carries as are the other backs on his team, a positive score indicates that he is succeeding more often than his teammates are, and vice versa for a negative score.
Team Rushing Volume
While notoriously a run-first team, the Seattle Seahawks were actually No. 27 in the NFL in rushing attempts in 2021. Their 413 runs were nearly 40 fewer than league average. Their finishes in this category have fluctuated wildly in the last half-decade. They’ve gone from No. 21 to No. 2 to No. 3 to No. 18 from 2017 to 2020.
What has also fluctuated is Seattle’s desire to run the ball. According to rbsdm.com, they had the eighth-highest run rate in early-down, neutral Game Script situations (when win probability for either team did not exceed 80-percent) last year. The year before, they were No. 28 in the same metric, and they finished No. 11 there in 2019. It seems that much of that up-and-down is due to Pete Carroll’s internal struggle between letting Russ cook and sticking with his personal preference to establish the run. Now, Russell Wilson is gone. And Carroll’s comments this offseason make it clear that the Seahawks intend to be a run-first football team going forward.
There was a bit of a revolving door at running back for Seattle last year. Six players, Rashaad Penny, Alex Collins, Chris Carson, Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas, and Adrian Peterson, toted the rock at points. All of those guys had double-digit carries. Here are the full rushing efficiency profiles for each of them:
It’s been a good run for the former seventh-round pick Carson. But his last 1,000-yard campaign is now three years in the rearview. And he just posted the least efficient season of his career. He’s still a fairly consistent producer, evidenced by his 57th-percentile Relative Success Rate. But he’ll be 28 in September, and might no longer have the juice to add dynamic value on the ground.
Collins has managed to somehow stick around and get volume despite contributing almost nothing over the last two seasons. The other ancillary guys were also been fairly unimpressive. More than 40-percent of Homer’s yardage total came on one long run on a fake punt. And Dallas has yet to post a Box-Adjusted Efficiency Rating above the 28th-percentile through two seasons. Peterson’s combination of terrible BAE Rating and Relative Success Rate marks was bottom-five in the league last year. He’s completely washed up.
The 172.3-percent BAE Rating that Rashaad Penny posted last year is in the 99th-percentile. And it was the highest mark in the league among backs with more than 30 carries. His 57.9-percent Breakaway Conversion Rate was itself in the 98th-percentile. This made him the only 100-plus carry player in the league with a BCR above even the 40-percent mark. His negative RSR was just a 49th-percentile number. But that’s probably just who Penny is. He’s now played four seasons, and the 2.0-percent RSR he posted on 65 attempts in 2019 is his only positive mark in that category despite high BAE Ratings every year but 2020 (a season in which he had only 11 carries). He’s a dynamic runner with a lot of boom-bust to his game.
So Now What?
Alex Collins and Adrian Peterson are gone. Darwin Thompson (who knew?) and former UL-Monroe runner Josh Johnson join Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, DeeJay Dallas, and Travis Homer as backs currently under contract in Seattle.
Carson has one years left on a deal that pays him about $5 million per, and Penny just signed a one-year deal for $5.75 million himself. If talent wins out, this is the year that Penny gets truly unleashed.
His ADP could correct a bit as fallout from the new contract sets in. But according to DLF, he’s currently being selected in the 9th round and as the RB37 in startup drafts. Given the runner he’s been to date in his career, that’s incredible value. I’d certainly rather have him than Alexander Mattison, James Robinson, or Devin Singletary. And all three of those guys are going before him, Singletary by more than a full round.
Rashaad Penny is a low key win-now piece that can be had in the relative scrap heap of dynasty startups. And I don’t think it’s out of the question that he’s more productive in 2022 than guys like David Montgomery or J.K. Dobbins. The Seahawks want to run the ball. Penny has a consistent history of positive team-relative efficiency. He’s at the age apex and presumably healthy at the same time that Chris Carson seems to no longer be either one.
If it’s ever going to happen, 2022 is the year.