Despite entering the 2021 season with championship aspirations, the Seahawks lost five of their first eight games and never fully recovered, finishing in last place in the NFC West with a 7-10 record.
Throughout the majority of the season, Seattle struggled to sustain drives and put points on the board. One reason behind those persistent woes was the lack of a consistent run game, as injuries to several running backs and underwhelming line play made coordinator Shane Waldron's offense one dimensional. Late in the season, however, thanks in large part to Rashaad Penny's revival behind a mauling line, a suddenly potent ground attack transformed the unit back into a dangerous one.
Looking back at the season in retrospect, how did Seattle's running back group perform as a whole in 2021? And what does the future look like at the position?
2021 Stats: 749 rushing yards, six touchdowns, 6.3 yards per carry
Overall Season Grade: B+ (88.5)
What Went Right: Finally able to stay on the field, Penny emerged as one of the NFL's most dynamic backs during the final five weeks of the season. Spearheading Seattle's resurgent offense down the stretch, the former first-round pick ripped off eight runs of 25 or more yards, tying Jonathan Taylor for the NFL lead on just 119 carries compared to Taylor's 332. Forcing 25 missed tackles in the process, he eclipsed 130 rushing yards in four out of five starts, becoming just the 10th player in NFL history to reach that rushing total while scoring a touchdown and averaging more than 6.5 yards per carry four times in a single season. In addition, Penny improved leaps and bounds as a pass protector, evolving from a liability in that regard into a viable every down back while earning an excellent 71.0 grade from Pro Football Focus.
What Went Wrong: Unfortunately, the Seahawks didn't get to see what Penny truly could do until they were already out of playoff contention due to his persistent injury issues. After playing in just three games in 2020 returning from a torn ACL, he aggravated his calf in the season opener and landed on injured reserve. Once he returned in October, he was ineffective in limited opportunities before tweaking his hamstring against the Cardinals in Week 11. Before busting out in December, he rushed 27 times for only 78 yards and no touchdowns in five games.
Closing Thoughts: Penny picked the perfect time to get healthy and showcase his elite skill set at 235 pounds as he heads towards free agency in March. Due to his lengthy injury history, the Seahawks won't want to engage in a bidding war trying to keep him. But at the same time, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know his home run-hitting ability transformed their offense into a dangerous unit at the tail end of the season. Barring another team simply out-bidding them for his services, bringing the talented runner back on a short-term deal should be a top priority.
2021 Stats: 232 rushing yards, three touchdowns, 4.3 yards per carry
Overall Season Grade: B- (81.0)
What Went Right: Thriving in Shane Waldron's scheme, Carson got off to a quick start, rushing for 91 yards and more than 5.5 yards per carry in a 28-16 win over the Colts. He also added three catches for 26 yards in a well-rounded performance. The next week, though the Titans held him in check with 31 rushing yards, he scored a pair of touchdowns in defeat. He followed up with another strong outing in Minnesota, breaking free for a 30-yard touchdown run and totaling 80 rushing yards on just 12 carries.
What Went Wrong: As had been the case throughout Carson's career, his body failed him, as this time a neck injury brought his season to an abrupt end after playing in just four games. It marked the third time in five seasons he landed on injured reserve with a significant year-ending injury, as he broke his ankle during his rookie season and cracked his hip towards the tail end of the 2019 season. When healthy, the veteran ball carrier had an up-and-down 2021 season, finishing with under 33 yards rushing in two of the four games he played in and catching just five passes.
Closing Thoughts: Carson underwent neck surgery in December and coach Pete Carroll has sounded optimistic about his prognosis for returning to the field in 2022. If that's the case, he and Rashaad Penny could form a dangerous one-two punch once again. However, given the nature of his injury and the physically demanding position he plays, it's worth wondering if he will be able to make it back and he will need to prove he's fully healthy on the field.
2021 Stats: 177 rushing yards, one touchdown, 8.4 yards per attempt
Overall Season Grade: B (83.0)
What Went Right: In his third NFL season, Homer made his mark as one of Seattle's best special teams players and performed well as a third down back with limited opportunities. In a Week 8 win over the Jaguars, he put a dagger in the opponent late in the fourth quarter when he returned an onside kick 44 yards for a touchdown to seal a 31-7 victory. Then in Week 13, he earned NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors when he broke free on a fake punt for a 73-yard touchdown and recovered a fumble on kick coverage in a 30-23 win over the 49ers. Along with averaging a healthy 5.2 yards per carry on non-fake punt runs, he also added 16 receptions for 161 yards out of the backfield.
What Went Wrong: Nagging injuries dogged Homer for a second straight season, as he missed the entirety of training camp with a calf injury and then missed a pair of games in November with an unrelated calf/hamstring issue. Playing more than 15 offensive snaps in just four out of 14 games in which he dressed, those injuries likely prevented him from securing a more extensive role with other backs banged up around him. Surprisingly, though Homer still received a decent 67.4 grade from Pro Football Focus, he struggled a bit in pass protection by his standards, giving up a sack and four pressures on 49 pass blocking reps.
Closing Thoughts: Taking advantage of a more muscular frame, Homer ran with more physicality between the tackles than he did in first two seasons and impressed with the ball in his hands by producing 338 all-purpose yards on 37 touches. What has held him back has been untimely injuries, but as he enters the final year of his contract, there's still a chance he could take on an expanded role on offense while remaining a core special teams player in 2022.
2021 Stats: 138 rushing yards, two touchdowns, 4.2 yards per carry
Overall Season Grade: C+ (79.0)
What Went Right: When granted the rare opportunity to play more than an occasional snap as a third down back on offense, Dallas performed quite well both as a runner and a receiver. His best game of the year came in Week 14 when he played a starring role on Seattle's lone touchdown drive in a road loss to the Los Angeles Rams, as he ran eight times for 41 yards and powered into the end zone for six points to briefly give his team a 10-7 lead. For the year, he averaged north of four yards per carry, had three runs of 10-plus yards, caught 21 passes out of the backfield, and showed notable improvements as a pass protector. He also excelled on special teams, returning 33 kicks for 764 yards while adding 10 tackles and a forced fumble.
What Went Wrong: Even with injuries to Carson, Penny, and Collins, Dallas never received a single start in 17 games played and only eclipsed four carries in a game once. He couldn't carve out a consistent role as a third down back due to the presence of Travis Homer, limiting him to just two games with more than 15 offensive snaps. While he finished fifth on the team in receptions, he averaged just 6.3 yards per catch and only four of those catches moved the chains for first downs. As a returner, while he was consistent averaging 23.2 yards per return, he lacked the burst to break any of his returns for more than 40 yards.
Closing Thoughts: Though he's not the most explosive back on Seattle's roster, Dallas has a well-rounded skill set and displayed growth in all facets of his game in his second season. Built with a sturdy 210-pound frame and possessing soft hands as a former receiver, it's not out of the question he could be in line for more extensive playing time next fall, especially if Penny and/or Collins depart for another team in free agency and don't return.
2021 Stats: 411 rushing yards, two touchdowns, 3.8 yards per carry
Overall Season Grade: C (77.0)
What Went Right: Building off an excellent preseason, Collins gave the Seahawks a lift in a Week 4 road win over the 49ers with 78 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. With Carson sidelined due to a neck injury, he started each of the team's next five games, including hitting the 100-yard mark for the first time since 2019 and scoring a touchdown in an overtime loss to the Steelers in Week 6. While his effectiveness waned after that game due to a lingering groin injury and a struggling offensive line in front of him, he still rushed for 268 yards and did a quality job filling in during those five games. Collins also made stark improvements in pass protection, allowing just one pressure on 22 reps.
What Went Wrong: Unable to get healthy after his breakout game in Pittsburgh, Collins barely averaged north of 3.0 yards per carry in his final six games and eventually Penny took the starting job from him. After gutting it out in a Week 12 loss to Washington, with the injury clearly hindering his burst and quickness, he only dressed for one more game the remainder of the season due to injury and a positive COVID test.
Closing Thoughts: Taking the next step in his redemption tour after being out of the league completely in 2019, Collins flashed once again as a capable starting running back for Seattle before his performance took a hit due to a nagging injury. Set to be a free agent in March, Seattle could easily bring him back on a veteran minimum deal to provide quality, experienced insurance in the backfield. With him not offering special teams value, however, it's also possible the team could decide to move on with a promising Josh Johnson on the roster.
Seahawks 2021 Positional Report Cards
Receiver - Coming 1/20/22
Tight End - Coming 1/22/22
Offensive Tackle - Coming 1/24/22
Guard/Center - Coming 1/27/22
Linebacker - Coming 1/19/22
Cornerback - Coming 1/23/22
Safety - Coming 1/26/22
Specialists - Coming 1/28/22