Entering the offseason, running back was thought to be a much bigger need than it ended up being for the Seahawks. Carlos Hyde quickly departed for the Jaguars at the start of free agency, and Chris Carson appeared set to reap the rewards of being the top back on the market after Aaron Jones re-signed with the Packers. Given a limited cap situation and Carson's assumed status once Jones went off the board, it was hard to imagine Seattle getting in the same ballpark as Carson, let alone be able to re-sign him.
But the market didn't play out anywhere close to what Carson and his camp anticipated. He had interest from teams like the Dolphins and Patriots, but didn't see the money he was looking for. As the days went on with Carson unsigned well into the latter half of the first week of free agency, the Seahawks swooped in and came to an agreement with their former seventh-round selection.
Before that, they were preparing to go running back by committee in 2021. They re-signed Alex Collins, who flashed in limited opportunities last season, to share carries with Rashaad Penny, DeeJay Dallas, and Travis Homer. Presumably, the idea was to draft another running back to add to the mix. But with Carson now in tow, that thought has since faded.
One thing to note, however, is that Penny is on the last year of his rookie contract and we still haven't gotten a great look at him post-surgery for the ACL he tore in 2019. Dallas produced at times as a rookie last year, primarily in the passing game, while Homer, despite his contributions as a pass blocker and on special teams, has made his limitations as a runner well-known. There's a lot of uncertainty in this group, and with head coach Pete Carroll's burning desire for constant competition, running back could still very much be on the table for the Seahawks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
While I think it's relatively safe to expect them to go elsewhere with their first couple picks in this draft, they could target a running back in the mid rounds. This, of course, solely depends on their ability to accumulate more capital through trade. If they end up making just three or four selections, I doubt they use any of them on a ball-carrier with legit needs at receiver, cornerback, center, strong-side linebacker, and more.
But if they do have a chance to get creative in the latter half of the draft, Larry Rountree III might be a name to watch. There isn't a ton of eye-catching talent at running back in this class aside from the likes of Javonte Williams and Najee Harris, and Rountree isn't necessarily an exception, but he possesses some nice tools that could complement the Seahawks' current stable of backs rather nicely.
Rountree was a flat-out producer as a four-year player for Missouri. On a whopping 746 carries, he put up 3,720 rushing yards and 40 touchdowns—the majority of which came against some of the best, most pro-ready defensive fronts the country has to offer in the SEC.
He makes his money working in between the tackles, shrinking himself down nicely to squeeze through tight holes and keeping his legs churning through contact. While he's not a very powerful runner, defenders struggle to bring him down on initial contact due to his elusive running style. He's bendy and has good awareness of incoming tackles and angles, which helps him anticipate well and plan his next move accordingly.
That translates well to the open field, as long as he's running relatively downhill. He excels at making the heat-seeking missile type of defenders look silly on a regular basis, cutting them down to size with a quick juke or spin. He's a solid pass-catcher with strong mechanics, displaying good hands and a quick ability to tuck and turn upfield in one fluid motion.
Rountree has good enough vision to identify holes and adapt on the fly, but he doesn't have the acceleration needed to get there in a timely manner. If he's stopped behind the line of scrimmage, you won't see him go east to west and turn a would-be loss into a nice gain. There's very little home-run hitting ability to begin with here, but if opposing defenses seal off the interior, Rountree isn't going to give you much.
What may turn many teams off, the Seahawks included, is his work as a pass protector. He's a willing blocker, but his lack of physicality really shows against bigger blitzers. He'll have a tough time winning many of these matchups at the NFL level unless a coaching staff can help him hammer out his technique. But for now, he really struggles with getting pushed back and keeping defenders engaged and out of the play for any extended period of time.
Fit in Seattle
If the Seahawks are looking for some depth they can rely on to simply keep the run game respectable, Rountree is their guy. He's not a prototypical physical Seattle-style runner, but he knows where the yardage is at. You likely won't see him break off many big runs, but you also won't see a ton of negative plays either.
Given Carson and Penny's injury history, the Seahawks could potentially use a runner like that. Someone that can give them consistent, quality runs to help push the flow of the game. He should be more than capable of doing at least that, especially with a mauler like Damien Lewis leading the way. And while Carson has significantly improved as a pass-catcher, Rountree may have him beat there—at least from an upside standpoint. If he improves his blocking, there's some potential for Rountree as a third-down back.