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Narrative Street

Seahawks Still Booming

by Jesse Pantuosco

The Seahawks were supposed to be toast. Now they are the toast … of the NFL that is (see what I did there?). Lame puns aside, the Seahawks are rolling right now and I’m not sure any of us could have seen this coming, save for the forever upbeat Pete Carroll and his faithful foot soldier, Russell Wilson. Earl Thomas’ broken leg was supposed to be the final nail in the Legion of Boom’s coffin. Even before Thomas flipped the Seahawks his infamous farewell bird (truly touching), all signs pointed to a rebuild in the Emerald City.

 

The offseason was a bloodbath. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Sheldon Richardson, Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson—all gone. Rumors of a toxic locker room hovered over the team like a storm cloud waiting to burst. Some even questioned Carroll’s job security. The Seahawks were an apocalypse wrapped in disaster, a train wreck on steroids, a nightmare that just swallowed a dumpster fire. So, after all that, how are they still breathing?

 

Easy. They have Russell Wilson. You’re not going to believe this, but the 30-year-old golden boy is having his best year yet. With five games to go, Russ is on pace for 36 touchdown passes, which would better the career mark of 34 he set last season. And look at his supporting cast—gadget-man-turned lead receiver Tyler Lockett, former seventh-round pick David Moore (who played his college ball at Division II East Central) and anonymous tight end Nick Vannett. There’s not a heavy-hitter in the bunch, unless you count injury-derailed veteran Doug Baldwin, who clearly hasn’t been himself this year. But Wilson is a chameleon, an abstract artist who can paint with any brush. Whatever colors you put on the palette, Russ will make it into a masterpiece. Rocket-armed and still among the league’s fleetest of foot, the NFL’s prince of improvisation continues to turn his doubters to dust.

 

 

Seattle’s 6-5 record isn’t the prettiest, but it’s still a better mark than many expected. The Seahawks have taken a few gut-punches, losing heartbreakers to the Rams (twice, actually), Chargers and Bears, all of whom are locks for the postseason. But even with those hiccups factored in, their season is far from over, especially with upcoming games against the lowly Niners (who they play twice) and Cardinals. We know the Saints, Bears and Rams will be playing January football but the rest of the NFC playoff picture is very much up for grabs. Despite the majestic brilliance of chip-on-his-shoulder running back Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers have fallen off recently, squandering their hot start by dropping three straight. Barring a miraculous finish, perennial powers Atlanta and Green Bay won’t be making playoff noise this year. With the NFC’s middle class in a state of upheaval, the quietly lurking Seahawks are in prime position to pounce.

 

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One overlooked aspect of the Seahawks’ quick revival has been their enlivened running game, which has run the gamut from explosive to downright dominant. Ground-and-pound has always been a Seahawks staple, from Shaun Alexander’s memorable tenure to the glory days of Skittle-popping goofball Marshawn Lynch and his many Beast Quakes. But that element was mostly missing last season as the Seahawks stumbled to the league’s 10th-fewest rushing yards per game (101.8, if you’re keeping tabs) while finishing dead-last in rushing touchdowns. And three of those four rushing scores were provided by Russell Wilson, who, last we checked, is a quarterback. Wilson was also the team leader in rushing yards with 586, which was more than double the amount registered by second-place finisher Mike Davis (240).

 

So what did the Seahawks do to address that need? They went for the jugular, nabbing prolific San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny with the 27th overall pick. Some considered that a reach—despite leading the nation in rushing yards, Penny wasn’t expected to go off the board until the second or third round. Others questioned whether his game would translate after seeing Penny’s SDSU teammate Donnel Pumphrey, now an Eagles practice-squadder, flounder in the pros. All rookies go through growing pains (unless you’re a plutonium-infused supernova like one Saquon Barkley), but at the season’s three-quarter mark, we’re still waiting for Penny to deliver on his first-round promise. The 22-year-old has struggled with conditioning (he packed on upwards of 15 pounds between the draft and his training camp weigh-in) and injuries, among other obstacles.

 

Even with Penny being a nonfactor, Seattle’s ground game has flourished nonetheless, tearing up opponents for a league-leading 147.1 rushing yards per game. They also lead the league in attempts with 351. The catalyst has been Chris Carson, a late-round (and I mean REALLY late—he was the fifth-to-last pick) flyer in last year’s draft. The Oklahoma State product has been a horse, ramming his way to 70.6 rushing yards per game (12th-highest), while also supplying four touchdowns with three coming in his last four games. Even the aforementioned Davis has shown flashes, particularly as a pass-catcher out of the backfield (23 grabs for 134 yards and a touchdown on 29 targets).

 

The Seahawks have placed a clear emphasis on their rushing attack, running on an NFL-high 50.6 percent of their plays. In a league that has become steadily more pass-oriented in recent years, the Seahawks have championed a different technique, playing keep-away from their opponents by feeding the rock to Carson. Don’t knock it—the Cowboys employed a similar strategy in Thursday night’s upset of New Orleans (the victory assures Jason Garrett will be employed by Dallas for at least another decade). We all loved Rams/Chiefs (except for all the obnoxious defense truthers polluting the Twitter-verse), but football isn’t a one-size-fits-all sport. Any approach can work if done properly. And right now, ground-and-pound is working for the Seahawks.

 

But let’s not sell the Seahawks’ passing attack short. 2018 will be remembered for many things—enormous cows, the Royal wedding, ceaseless Jimmy Butler drama. But in the Pacific Northwest (where Newman famously honed his climbing technique), 2018 will go down as the year Tyler Lockett finally reached his full potential, unleashing his inner Tyreek Hill with a dazzling display of downfield excellence. Lockett is no overnight sensation. The former Kansas State Wildcat has long been a highlight-reel staple, making his bacon as a showy jack-of-all-trades and even garnering All-Pro recognition as a return specialist. But after years of deferring to Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson (now a Washington Redskin), Lockett has finally come into his own, graduating from his role as an intermittent game-changer to a weekly offensive focal point.

 

Although he’s most known for his deep prowess (he ranks 17th in air yards, according to the great minds at PlayerProfiler.com), the 26-year-old has been a model of efficiency, soaking up over 81 percent of his targets this year. And get this—despite ranking outside the top 50 in both catches (tied for 53rd) and targets (79th), Seattle’s intrepid downfield adventurer has boosted his fantasy credentials by supplying 661 receiving yards (three off his career-high set in 2015) along with eight touchdown receptions, the latter ranking fifth in the league behind only Antonio Brown, Eric Ebron, Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams.

 

That’s elite company and a pretty good return on investment for fantasy owners who were courageous enough to take the plunge on Lockett despite his spotty resume. Lockett carried an eminently reasonable 12th-round ADP during draft season, going around the same juncture as Alfred Morris, Josh Doctson and Cameron Meredith. And while fantasy owners have yet to benefit from this trait, Lockett has also been a pioneer in the world of end-zone celebrations, entertaining us with his jump-roping expertise, a faux baseball brawl and a nod to the time Allen Iverson took Tyronn Lue’s soul on a basketball court. Lockett’s emergence has been a welcome development, especially with aging slot man Doug Baldwin (40.1 receiving yards per game with one touchdown) looking long in the tooth.

 

You don’t have to stroll too far down memory lane to be reminded of Seattle’s Super Bowl-winning team in 2013. The Seahawks were a Marshawn Lynch end-zone-dive away from raising a second Lombardi Trophy the following year, but Malcolm Butler foiled that plot with one of the most iconic interceptions in NFL history. Russell Wilson performed many a miracle during the Seahawks’ heyday, but what really made those teams brilliant was their defense.

 

The Legion of Boom—a star-studded, borderline unstoppable secondary led by a trio of future Hall of Famers in Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas—is what we’ll remember most from those years, but the rest of the defense was just as dominant. Michael Bennett, Bruce Irvin, Malcolm Smith, Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright—Seattle’s collection of talent during those years was almost unfathomable. This is a unit that made Peyton Manning, fresh off the greatest season of his illustrious career, tank on the biggest stage, falling by 35 points in one of the most lopsided Super Bowls ever.

 

Most of the names and faces that made that team a juggernaut have flown the coop, but the spirit of boom still lives on in the grunge capital. Ace linebacker Bobby Wagner hasn’t lost his fastball yet while pass-rushing prodigy Frank Clark has taken a huge leap forward this year, registering double-digit sacks while also ranking among the league leaders in forced fumbles with three. Even Seattle’s talent-drained secondary has shown some muscle, compiling 11 interceptions (sixth-most) this year. Though not a household name, Bradley McDougald has quietly been a nice find, holding down PFF’s No. 5 safety grade out of 89 qualifiers. Only seven teams in football have allowed fewer points than the Seahawks this season, an astonishing feat considering their offseason losses and a testament to Seattle’s absurd resiliency. For all their warts, the Seahawks are shaping up as a team nobody wants to face come playoff time.

 

What’s the fantasy rub?

 

This one’s a layup. That’s right, guys. It’s time to ride or die with Chris Carson. The reasons are obvious. The Seahawks are huge home favorites against a 49ers team that comes limping in off an ugly loss to Tampa Bay. With Nick Mullens throwing to folks like Dante Pettis and Kendrick Bourne, the Niners could be in for a long afternoon at CenturyLink Field. In a game the Seahawks should control from start to finish, Carson figures to see an abundance of carries and more than a few goal-line totes. Positive game script, touchdown upside—this one checks off all the boxes. Perhaps the Seahawks will look to involve Penny more if things get out of hand, but by then, Carson will have already done plenty. Treat Carson as a top-shelf RB2 for the final week of the fantasy regular season.

Jesse Pantuosco
Jesse Pantuosco is a football and baseball writer for Rotoworld. He has won three Fantasy Sports Writers Association Awards. Follow him on Twitter @JessePantuosco.