On the most recent NFL Fantasy Live Podcast I made the comment that “Chris Carson finally broke through,” which got a hearty chortle from Alex Gelhar who pointed out that we’re only in Week 2! That got me to legit LOL because it was a dose of reality in that moment.
A lot of us in the fantasy community have been on woke on Carson since Week 1 … of the preseason, which is probably why I felt like him racking up 100 total yards was a long time coming.
But should you believe in the bruising rookie from Oklahoma State moving forward or was it just a one-week blip on the fantasy radar in an extremely favorable matchup against a pliable Niners defense?
WHO IS THIS GUY?
We’ll start with the measurables. The rookie from Oklahoma State is 5-foot-11, 220 pounds of pure unadulterated power. Carson ran a respectable 4.58 40-yard dash and showed explosive leg strength with a 37-inch vertical and a 130-inch broad jump, which were good for fourth and second among running backs at the combine.
A good north-south runner, Carson loves contact and definitely has the mindset of wanting to punish defenders as a true power back.
While it’s one thing to truck some poor 18-year-old walk on in college, it’s an entirely different monster to plow over a 30-something grown man who’d like nothing more than to light up an overzealous rookie.
Well, we got the answer to the “will the power translate” question pretty early. In Seattle’s first preseason game, Carson came in for a goal-line carry against the Chargers and this happened:
â Matt Franciscovich (@MattFranchise)
August 17, 2017
You’ve seen the highlight but take a closer look. That was an unblocked defensive tackle with a clean angle and Carson absolutely buried him, absorbing the hit from the two-yard line and carrying the 300-something-pound DT deep into the end zone.
This ability to generate yards is huge for a Seattle offense with a line that appears to be, once again, one of the worst in the league. Turning a two-yard loss into a one-yard gain or, as seen above, a touchdown, is massive.
A favorite sleeper among those in the know, the biggest concern for Carson coming into 2017 was workload. The team signed Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls was coming back from injury and there were whispers that C.J. Prosise would see more snaps especially in the passing game.
PETE CARROLL: SLAYER OF COMMITTEES
If there’s one thing you can expect from Pete Carroll-run teams it is that the lead back will get work. Barring injuries or blowouts, Carroll doesn’t believe in committees.
In nine of the team’s first 14 games in 2016 the leading ball carrier saw at least 70 percent of the backfield carries. The last two games, remember, were a bit of a train wreck as injuries ravaged the running back corps. It’s also worth keeping in mind that this was with Christine Michael (who was cut midseason), an oft-injured Thomas Rawls and pass-catching/also injured C.J. Prosise as the “lead” backs. It didn’t matter. If Carroll pegged one of these guys as the leading rusher, they were likely to get the bulk of the carries.
Week 1 of 2017 brought us an extremely rare triumvirate of rotating backs including Eddie Lacy, Carson, and Prosise, who got five, six and four carries respectively. But in Week 2 we saw the return to Carroll football. Rawls “started” but only saw five carries while Carson racked up 20 carries. Prosise saw zero carries and had three receptions to Carson’s one.
So the question becomes, will this hold up?
â James Koh (@JamesDKoh)
September 19, 2017
REAL DEAL, OR NAH?
On the season, Carson is averaging a robust 5.1 yards per carry. It’s a small sample size, obviously, but Rawls, Lacy and Prosise have a combined 18 yards on 14 carries, good for a 1.29 yards per carry average.
A big reason for the inefficiency is clearly the offensive line, as Pro Football Focus graded the ‘Hawks as the worst line in 2016 and again rated them as the worst line coming into 2017. And yet, there’s Carson sporting a 5.1 yards per carry average.
So how is Carson producing while all the other Seattle backs continue to struggle? The answer is he’s doing it on his own. He’s averaging 2.23 rush yards after contact, good for fifth among running backs with at least 20 carries.
And per Next Gen Stats, Carson is averaging 4.4 yards per carry after a defender gets within a yard, with the league average being roughly 3.7. This points to Carson generating yards for himself, despite a line that is struggling to open up running lanes.
Again, it’s small sample size but here’s a comparison of how Carson is doing compared to other backs who had to work around spotty offensive line play. So yeah, I’d say he’s the real deal.
â James Koh (@JamesDKoh)
September 19, 2017
“I’M A MAN. I’M 40!”
In addition to having one of the best post-game rants ever, Mike Gundy’s system at Oklahoma State featured a ton of spread concepts and read-option plays which helped Carson’s early run.
Given that the Seahawks are a shotgun-heavy team, being able to run out of this set is critical to success for a running back.
Next Gen Stats has Seattle running more than 60 percent of their plays from the shotgun in 2016 and 2015. So far, so good for Carson who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry in his runs out of shotgun and a very impressive 6.7 ypc out of their single-back set in 2017.
WHAT’S IT ALL MEAN?
Carson’s emergence combined with Eddie Lacy being a healthy scratch in Week 2 is all the signage you need to know that Lacy is done as a viable fantasy option. It’s crystal clear that Carson is a better system fit and looks to be the much, much more explosive player at this point in their careers. If you spent a single-digit pick on Lacy, sorry for your luck.
But what gives me pause from going all-in on Carson is that Rawls is slowly but surely getting healthier. He started Week 2 and if he starts getting some of that viciousness back in his game, I can see a scenario where he reclaims his role as a feature back. And as I’ve detailed, you can rest assured that Carroll isn’t likely to run a committee which makes picking the correct back a big fantasy decision.
All that being said, because Carson has shown early flashes of being able to generate his own offense I would lean toward Carroll giving the rookie the opportunity to prove it until defenses adjust, if they can.
Carson needs to be rostered in all formats and could prove to be a league winner if everything breaks right.
» Nothing but respect to Brian Stann who announced his retirement from MMA commentary to pursue other ventures. Stann is a legit American hero, receiving a Silver Star Medal for helping save members of his platoon while under fire from Iraqi insurgents. He was also a helluva fighter but an even better commentator. For a sport that has been unfairly maligned as a bloody, low-brow form of entertainment, Stann brought a level of professionalism and intelligence other color commentators from other sports could learn a lot from. I’ll miss hearing him.
» Fans of the podcast know I love me some Harry Mack. Dude might be the best freestyle rapper in the game. I just saw that he sat down with Kendrick Lamar over the summer and he absolutely killed it. Again.
» Speaking of rand-o hip-hop songs, here’s one that just popped up on my playlist: Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz’s “Deja Vu”.
» Un-daps to myself for coming in hotter than molten lava on Kenny Golladay only to see him put up a one-catch, eight-yard line on Monday night. That being said, it should be noted he was targeted twice deep downfield which is what you want. Also, Matthew Stafford looked very solid in a bad matchup. I’d shop Jeremy Maclin or Marvin Jones for Stafford if you’re so inclined. I could see them asking for more but I’m not sure I’d move a running back for Stafford if I could help it.
James D. Koh is an anchor and host for NFL Network. He is also a host of the NFL Fantasy Live Podcast and a guest columnist for the NFL fantasy football editorial staff. Follow him on Twitter @JamesDKoh to tell him how much of an idiot he is for writing this column.