UNDER PRESSURE – RB EDITION
In ‘Under Pressure’, we look at two Running Backs who are walking the tightrope in terms of their starting positions. They could be on the verge of being overtaken by one of their backups.
CHRIS CARSON – SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
I’ve already looked at Chris Carson in a previous article. In that piece, I focused on his health issues and whether he would see a full schedule of games this season. Carson has suffered from various health issues over the last few years. It has previously affected his participation in training, but has particularly impacted his availability for games. His most recent injury caused his backup Rashaad Penny to step into the spotlight. That was, until Penny ended up getting injured himself.
Now we come into a new season – and Carson has returned to training. However, his level of participation was low at the start of padded training due to personal reasons. So how he comes through the pre-season remains to be seen.
But, injuries aside, there was another reason that meant that Carson’s role was on the line last season.
A CHRIS FULL OF FUMBLES
Before Carson get injured during last season, he was suffering from another different condition. A case of the fumbles. In 2019, the Running Back fumbled the ball 6 times during rushing attempts – losing 3 of them to the opposition. He also lost a fumble after a reception.
Three of those lost fumbles came in the first three games of the season – one in each. After this unwanted streak, the questions started to appear about whether Carson could continue handling the volume he was seeing. Whether his back up should take over. But, until Carson’s final game in Week 16, the Running Back saw the lions share of carries for all but one week. And yet he still fumbled the ball four more times in a three games stretch.
Sure, Carson was able to gather up the ground yards by the spade when he was playing. From Week 4 onwards, he surpassed 100 yards in 6 games. And he scored 7 touchdowns. So it is understandable why Seattle want to keep using him. As long as he can pound that ball up the field, they keep him in the side.
THE PENNY DROPS
However, the one game where Carson did not see the majority of the carries was a week where Rashaad Penny exploded. Penny feasted against the Eagles. With his 14 carries, he ripped off 129 yards (including a 59 yard rush) and a touchdown.
Penny’s stats are two sides of a coin. On one side, he has played a minor role in several games. A handful of carries for minimal games. The other side shows what he can do with a little more volume.
In the three games where Penny had 10 carries or over, he put down over 50 yards. As well as this, he scored a touchdown in each of those games. These contributions before his injury means that, once he returns, there will surely be pressure on Carson’s starting role from that side of the Running Back room.
But it’s the new arrival that could provide the biggest challenge to Carson’s position in the lead position.
NOWHERE TO HYDE
The recruitment of Carlos Hyde should be lighting a fire behind Carson. The former Texan also had a 1000+ yard rushing season last year – his largest rushing yardage to date. Hyde spent half of 2018 stuck behind Nick Chubb at Cleveland, and the other half in the Jacksonville wilderness. So it must have felt good for Hyde to get a full season and produce some decent stats.
His latest campaign with the Houston outfit might have ended with Carlos hitting free agency, but his form surely brings him to the Seahawks on a high. So this addition to the Seattle squad must be ringing Carson’s alarm bells. Both he and Hyde had similar usages as lead backs last season, with the lion’s share of redzone rushes for their teams as well. So his arrival could be the biggest pressure on Carson after his disheartening end to 2019.
We last looked at Carson’s ADP back in June, where the Seattle Running Back was sat on RB21, at the bottom half of the RB2 range. Comparatively, Hyde’s ADP was RB54 – way down the rankings.
But a lot has changed since then. Hyde’s ADP has actually dropped since that last article. At time of writing, the backup is now at RB64 – ten spaces below his previous ranking. Carson’s ADP, on the other hand, has actually risen. Now he finds himself at RB17 – comfortably in the middle of the RB2 range. At these prices, and with all the issues previously covered, Carlos Hyde is looking like even better value than before.
And, even without the rise in his ADP, Carson has a lot to points to prove this year. Avoid the injuries. Avoid the fumbles. And prevent the capable backups from taking his spot. It’s a lot to do, and it will be interesting to see if Carson can handle the pressure.
MELVIN GORDON – DENVER BRONCOS
I have talked about Melvin Gordon in the Chargers article from several months back. In that article, I likened Gordon to a battering ram, pounding heavily and often into the defensive line – churning up the yards and steadily moving the offense forward.
Comparing his rushing numbers to that of Austin Ekeler, the change of pace back (and holder of the Ekeler role in 2019), there were visible contrasts. Gordon’s rushes through the centre were above the team average – and nearly half of the rushes that the Chargers made on Gordon’s return went through the middle of the offensive line.
Gordon’s role as lead back was already being questioned at the Chargers after the team decided against giving him a new contract. His short and often approach was clearly not what the management were looking for in their lead back.
After four successful Ekeler-led weeks, the chips were down and the cards were on the table. Gordon slunk back to the team with his tail. And, at the end of the season, Gordon moved onto pastures new, settling at the Broncos. But, even without hindsight, this seemed like a strange move. Denver had a rather full backfield already, including a 1000 yard rusher in Philip Lindsay.
Like Ekeler, Lindsay managed to see action in the pass and the run, accumulating an extra 196 yards in the air. His NextGen stats show that Lindsay regularly uses runs outside the offensive line as well as seeing runs through it – very similar to Ekeler’s usage. So Lindsay is already offering something that Gordon does not show very often.
And, to make the situation at Denver even worse for Gordon, events over training camp have already started to go Lindsay’s way.
TRAINING CAMP TROUBLES
Colorado is much different to California. And Gordon has found this out the hard way. The additional altitude that comes with the territory has been making it tough for the arriving Running Back. Gordon has already said he feels the difference in training, and that the biggest adjustment was that he still felt out of shape despite working all off-season.
This was further compounded by reports of a rib injury sustained in a Thursday practice session, according to Ryan O’Halloran of the Denver Post. Gordon missed the Friday practice from the injury, and remained day-to-day with the issue. He was finally cleared for practice following the weekend. As the NFL teams have no pre-season games, this is a sizeable amount of time to have off – especially when you’re competing against a team mate for the top spot. Although unfortunate, that injury will have put the pressure on Gordon to perform.
Even before the injury, there had been talks that head coach Vic Fangio will be looking to split work evenly between the two players. Now, considering Lindsay has worked with Fangio last season and has been ever-present during these camps, the balance might be tipping in his favour. And, with the news that the Head Coach is actively considering against assigning a lead back status, this could ultimately be great for Lindsay – but terrible for Gordon.
Next time, we look at Wide Receivers who could find themselves under pressure as we get closer to the season start!