As the Seahawks' Week 10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals came to an end, two significant aspects of their season may have ended also: the Seahawks' chances to contend in 2009, and Julius Jones’ apparent strangle-hold on the starting running back position.
With Julius Jones shelved with what appears to be a fairly serious set of complications following a broken rib, chances are we’ll see a lot more of Justin Forsett.
Forsett made the most of his first significant regular action, rushing for 123 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown, and also hauling in five receptions for 26 yards. Many thought that the diminutive second-year back would be an effective rusher, given his impressive preseason showing in 2008 that earned the former seventh-round pick a spot on the roster.
I’ve spent the last few weeks at bars, at work, or anywhere else where people want to talk Seahawks football (apart from Bleacher Report, as a fried hard drive has kept me off the keyboard as of late), explaining why Forsett was a better option than Jones and Edgerrin James.
And after two years of struggling to manufacture a running game from an anemic combination of Jones, T.J. Duckett, and James, perhaps the most valid remaining question is: What the hell took so long?
In all fairness, Forsett’s been only an average kick returner, and probably doesn’t profile as a “feature back” in the traditional sense of the term, but he’s more explosive than the latter trio, and deserves some time in the backfield.
Forsett had no carries in 2008, and was actually signed off of the team’s practice squad by the Indianapolis Colts, only to be cut and return to Seattle. Going into 2009, Forsett was slotted to be the third down back in a trio that included both James and Jones, and has been successful in that role. Though he’d only amassed 20 carries before Sunday’s game, but also caught 16 balls.
Several mock draft websites have some combination of C.J. Spiller and Jahvid Best being taken by Seattle with one of its two first round picks this offseason.
Spiller is a hyper-athetic back from Clemson, and fits the mold of several backs that have succeeded in a zone-blocking scheme. Similarly, Best is very athletic, and already plays in a zone-blocking scheme at the University of California.
On the surface, the drafting of either would make a ton of sense, but why rule out the present backup?
In Spiller and Best the team would essentially be drafting running backs in the same mold as Forsett, albeit at a much higher price tag. In Best, however, they’d be drafting a running back coming off a concussion, who has been less productive in the same college system.
The zone-blocking scheme, like all successful schemes in professional football, allows for imperfection at a position. That means that a team can be lacking in elite talent at the position, but still manage to produce. In this case, much like rush linebackers in blitz-heavy 3-4 schemes, zone blocking schemes don’t require elite talent at the running back position.
With that comes a reduced cost at the position. The Seahawks should be able to draft players with specific skill sets, rather than complete skill sets, in order to maintain production at the position. Then, when the player in question comes to the end of his rookie contract, he’s either traded (like Clinton Portis), or released (like Selvin Young).
The shelf lives of running backs are probably the shortest of any position in the NFL. So a rookie contract, especially one signed by a first round draftee (normally 4-6 years), typically ends at the downside of a running back’s career.
The Seahawks' season—or at least the part of their season during which they had a realistic shot at contending for a division title—is likely over. And while it’s unfortunate that Jones' career with the Seahawks could end as a result of an injury, it’s probably better for the team.
The 'Hawks need a plan going into 2010, and they need to establish future players at several positions on their offense. At the absolute least, if Forsett implodes over the next seven weeks, the Seahawks will have a better idea of what they need at the position going into the draft.