Set to Prioritize Run Game, Alex Collins Belongs in Seahawks' 2021 Plans

With Seattle's top two running backs hitting the market as unrestricted free agents and Rashaad Penny coming off a severe knee injury, the team has major questions at running back. After impressing in limited action last season, Collins deserves to be brought back for an extended look.
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Only 48 hours after the Seahawks 2020 season came to an abrupt end with a 30-20 Wild Card round loss to the Rams, coach Pete Carroll doubled down on what he thought went wrong offensively for the team down the stretch.

From Carroll's perspective - he knew fans weren't necessarily going to be thrilled about his assessment - as he indicated in his post-game press conference two days earlier, Seattle didn't lean enough on its ground game over the final two months. Diving more into specifics, he remained steadfast that a more effective rushing attack would have helped force opposing defenses out of the two-deep safety looks that seemed to pose problems for quarterback Russell Wilson and the passing game in the second half.

"I want to see if we can run the ball more effectively to focus the play of the opponents and see if we can force them to do things like we'd like them to do more, like we have been able to do that in the past," Carroll said. "That doesn't mean we're going to run the ball 50 times a game, it means we need to run the ball with direction and focus and style that allows us to dictate the game."

One day after making those comments, the Seahawks parted ways with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer due to "philosophical differences," further illustrating Carroll's desire to return to a more run-centric offense. Several of the names linked to the organization as a replacement, including Pep Hamilton, Kirby Wilson, and Anthony Lynn, offer running back backgrounds or have previously coordinated offenses that emphasized the run game.

If that's the game plan for Seattle - everything that has transpired since Carroll's final press conference suggests it is for better or worse - hiring the right offensive coordinator won't be the first or only key decision the team has to make in coming months. Personnel questions loom along the offensive line as well as in the backfield.

With there being a chance Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde could both depart in free agency, the team only has three other backs currently under contract. Former first-round pick Rashaad Penny missed most of the 2020 season recovering from a torn ACL and has struggled to stay healthy, while Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas have primarily been used as third down backs and also dealt with injuries last season.

No matter the circumstances, whether Carson or Hyde returns or Penny is slated to be the starter for the Seahawks, if improving the running game is truly a top priority, the team should bring back veteran Alex Collins to compete for snaps in training camp.

After being picked in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Collins struggled during his rookie season, failing to display the power, vision, and decisiveness that made him one of college football's best running backs and only the third player in SEC history with three straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Ball security also proved to be a concerning issue, as he fumbled twice on just 31 carries. The following September, he was waived and landed on the Ravens practice squad.

In Baltimore, Collins tasted his first success in the NFL. Injuries catapulted him onto the 53-man roster and by Week 4, he became the team's starting running back and emerged as a fantasy football darling. He wrapped up the season with 973 rushing yards, averaged nearly 4.6 yards per carry, and scored seven total touchdowns.

Injuries slowed him down in 2018, however, as Collins saw his yards per carry plummet to 3.6 in 10 starts before landing on season-ending injured reserve. A few months after the season ended, he was arrested for possession of marijuana and a firearm and the Ravens released him on the same day. Breaking his leg in an offseason workout, he didn't play a single snap in 2019.

But the Seahawks have always liked redemption stories and with Hyde and Carson nursing injuries in the middle of the season, Collins was brought in for a workout and began COVID-19 testing. Once cleared, he signed to the practice squad and played in his first NFL game in over a year in a 44-34 loss to the Bills.

Though he only dressed for three games and spent most of the season on Seattle's practice squad, Collins made the most of his second chance with the organization that drafted him when given the opportunity to play.

Starting against the Rams in a Week 10 road defeat, Collins scored a touchdown on the opening drive and finished the game with 43 yards on 11 carries. When Carson and Penny exited the Seahawks season finale against the 49ers with injuries, the former Arkansas standout checked in and ran five times for 29 yards, sealing the win by bulldozing into the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 10 points.

While Seattle likely wants to see if Penny can finally emerge as a workhorse back, his inability to stay on the field coupled with underwhelming production make it a risky fallback option without Carson or Hyde. Though they are quality receivers and special teams contributors, neither Homer nor Dallas has shown to this point that they are viable feature back options.

But unlike those three aforementioned players, Collins has proven he can be the "bell cow" in the backfield. He's only a couple years removed from nearly hitting the 1,000-yard mark in just 12 starts with the Ravens. He scored 13 rushing touchdowns and caught 38 passes in two seasons as their starter. Albeit with a limited sample size for the Seahawks last season, he displayed the power, quickness, and vision that weren't present in his first stint and truly made a difference when on the field.

Set to turn 27 in August, Collins is in the prime of his career and after only carrying the ball 18 times over the past two seasons, he should have fresh legs, offers the receiving and pass protection skills to play on third down, and won't be expensive to re-sign. After leaving a positive impression on Carroll and teammates, even if Carson or Hyde comes back, he absolutely deserves the shot to compete for a more extensive role and could be an unexpected game-changer for Seattle in 2021.