The Seahawks are inching closer to the start of the regular season and still have five running backs in tow. After seeing their depth ravaged by injuries in each of the past two seasons—particularly in 2019—they're not taking any chances. But carries and playing time will be hard to come by for anyone not named Chris Carson.
Keep in mind: only 46 players can suit up on game day. It's hard to imagine all five running backs will be active for kickoff, though it's even harder to choose which one(s) will get the short end of the stick each week—especially when the correct choice might be the toughest one to make.
That would be 2018 first-round draft pick Rashaad Penny. Recovered from a torn ACL suffered in 2019, Penny enters the fourth and final year of his rookie contract already labelled a "bust" by many. As such, he's in desperate need of getting his career back on the right track, but he should not be afforded any so-called "first-round privilege" in order to do so.
Penny must be forced to earn back the responsibilities of Seattle's No. 2 rusher behind Carson. Then again, that role may not technically exist and could be handled on a pure "by committee" basis. But there has to be some form of order in the way the Seahawks rotate their ball carriers, and Penny has done nothing that should put him at the front of the line.
Missing a good chunk of training camp with a thigh injury, Penny appeared in just two preseason games for the Seahawks. He carried the ball 12 times in 16 snaps for 32 yards, averaging 2.7 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, Alex Collins and DeeJay Dallas combined for 82 yards on 24 carries and 145 yards on 15 receptions as both jumped out as two of the team's top overall performers in the preseason.
Given their reported interest in veteran Giovani Bernard this past April, the Seahawks have looked for a true third down back to complement Carson. It's possible that Dallas qualified for the job with his performance this summer, or perhaps he's set to fill at least one half of it. In that case, Dallas would primarily handle pass catching duties while Travis Homer—the team's best pass protector out of the backfield—would come in to block on clear passing downs.
That's exactly why Homer can't—and likely won't—go inactive most Sundays. He offers a particular skill that none of Seattle's other backs have proved capable of doing effectively. That is, along with his two years of club control, the reason the team kept him on the roster despite him missing nearly all of training camp with a calf injury. Otherwise, this would be a relatively easy decision.
What this really boils down to is Penny versus Collins for those change-of-pace touches on early downs. The Penny we've seen in years past should be a good fit in Shane Waldron and company's wide zone scheme, but there have only been a handful of opportunities to see him post-injury, none of which have been all too inspiring.
Collins straight-up outperformed Penny in the preseason and was effective in his few opportunities last year. He's two years older than Penny is, but remember: both are free agents at the end of this season—age, control and draft status should have no influence here, though it's quite possible it will.
Nevertheless, it should simply come down to who the better back is and right now, that's not Penny. While his talent is undeniable, it's time to put into question if his potential is still realistically attainable. Following the injury, is it too much to wonder at this point if he's the least valuable ball carrier in Seattle's stable? Some may say it's Homer, but again: he's the best pass protector on the team. Penny, on the other hand, doesn't have a tool that particularly stands out among his peers.
But even in the "what have you done for me lately" nature of the NFL, some players have a longer leash than others—sometimes for inexplicable reasons. So when the Seahawks face the Colts on Sunday, don't be surprised if Penny still gets the second-highest amount of snaps behind Carson, even if he shouldn't.
In Pete Carroll's domain, however, competition reigns supreme, and the competition at running back spoke volumes this preseason. Alex Collins and DeeJay Dallas passed with flying colors and have simply done more than Rashaad Penny to warrant a considerable amount of playing time. Rewarding the latter based on upside alone would be a betrayal of Seattle's competitive mindset.