Daily Focus: Seahawks' youthful backfield full of potential
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Seahawks’ backfield full of youthful promise: In 2015, Thomas Rawls’ success as a rookie was curtailed somewhat by a late-season ankle fracture. That issue has lingered into 2016, forcing him onto the PUP list to start the year. He’s finally prepared to get back onto the field, however, and appears desperate to build on an impressive first season. Rawls was our 12th-highest-graded running back overall last year (81.1 grade), despite managing only 147 carries. He generated 3.1 yards after contact per attempt, adding a further 26 broken tackles, and will almost certainly start if he’s healthy this season.
Released twice, Christine Michael’s NFL career was in serious jeopardy. Injuries forced the Seahawks to re-sign the former second-round pick, and it appears he’s been humbled by his time on the street. His improved focus has reportedly impressed the coaches, explaining the confidence they placed in Michael toward the end of last season. In four starts, he graded positively in every game, offering hope that he can be at least a serviceable backup.
Rookie fifth-round pick Alex Collins (Arkansas) fits the Seahawks’ prototype. He is similar to Rawls and Michael in style, using power to generate extra yardage. Collins ranked 21st in the FBS in pure rushing grade last season, breaking a number of tackles (58) with his aggressive style. In contrast, rookie C.J. Prosise (Notre Dame) offers a different dimension with his quickness in the open field. Prosise is currently nursing a hamstring injury, but represents an ideal candidate for a third-down role when healthy. Although he has little experience at the position, Prosise proved his immense potential with 43 broken tackles from 156 carries in 2015; his dynamism could complement the other backs’ power perfectly.
Lack of depth could undermine Bills’ defensive front-seven development: To upgrade the team’s front-seven this season, the Bills became reliant on their top two draft picks of 2016. LB Reggie Ragland’s (Alabama) knee injury (which has been diagnosed as a partial ACL tear) quickly follows the setback suffered by DE Shaq Lawson’s (Clemson) shoulder, however. The Bills are desperately short of pass-rush and traditional linebacker depth, confounding the losses. The former Clemson defensive end haunted FBS quarterbacks a season ago, ranking seventh overall at his position. Behind Lawson on the depth chart, IK Enemkpali failed to register a single pressure last year, while Max Valles is yet to take a regular-season snap.
Dipping into free agency this offseason, the Bills added a pair of veterans in LBs David Hawthorne and Brandon Spikes. The former failed to grade positively under the new defensive coordinator during his time in New Orleans, giving up a QB rating of 109.9, including five touchdowns. Spikes missed the entirety of last season, but was highly productive in New England (2010–2013), earning top-15 grades consistently. However, the period during which he was sidelined may have detrimentally affected his performance.
Last season was also not kind to Preston Brown, who ranked 90th overall among his positional peers with a 37.0 grade. Rob and Rex have high standards, but the Ryan brothers may struggle to overcome such a depletion of talent.
Ted Larsen a viable replacement for Bears’ center Hroniss Grasu after injury: Shifting to guard permanently did not go well for journeyman offensive lineman Ted Larsen. Admittedly, he has not played center since 2013, but Larsen’s performances in that role have been significantly more impressive than his showing at guard. He’s graded positively overall as the line’s keystone, allowing only one sack, three hits, and pressures. In contrast, in more playing time at guard, Larsen has given up 11 sacks, 29 hits, and 97 pressures. Grasu was less than adequate as a rookie, managing only a 40.2 overall grade last season. He struggled as a run blocker, as well as in pass protection, recording grades of 40.6 and 45.2, respectively. The injury is likely a major hurdle in Grasu’s development.