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Fantasy Faceoff: Battle in Seattle – Chris Carson vs. Rashaad Penny

Last year, no team in the NFL was better at running the football than the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks led the NFC with 534 carries and paced all of the NFL in rushing yards per game at an even 160 per contest. Seattle tied for fifth in the NFL in yards per carry, averaging a robust 4.8 yards a pop. The main fantasy beneficiary of that ground-and-pound attack in 2018 was tailback Chris Carson. After injuries ruined his rookie season, Carson exploded in Year 2, ranking fifth in the NFL with 1,151 rushing yards on 247 carries. In PPR leagues Carson was a top-15 fantasy back.

However, there’s some uncertainty surrounding Carson in 2019 after offseason knee surgery. Part of that uncertainty stems from another second-year pro who saw his rookie season impacted substantially by injuries. The Seahawks spent a first-round pick on Rashaad Penny in the 2018 draft, and after showing some flashes down the stretch, it’s fair to wonder what the team might have planned for him this season.

That begs the question—with Chris Carson coming off draft boards in Round 5 and Penny getting selected a couple of rounds later per the ADP data at Fantrax, which Seahawks tailback represents the better value for fantasy owners in 2019?

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The Case for Carson

Carson was a spectator for much of OTAs and minicamp after having knee surgery in the offseason. But as Liz Mathews reported for Seahawks Wire, the injury didn’t stop the third-year veteran from showing up for workouts in tip-top shape.

“Nobody is in better shape than Chris Carson,” head coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s just an extremely well-fit guy. He’s just razor-sharp strength-wise and explosion-wise. He’s always really impressive.”

Chris Carson was certainly impressive in 2018. He averaged a robust 4.7 yards a carry, scored nine touchdowns and averaged 22.5 carries a game over the final four weeks of the regular season.

Carson’s durability is a legitimate concern—he played in just four games as a rookie before a broken ankle ended his season. But Andy Behrens of Yahoo Sports thinks that folks predicting a changing of the guard in Seattle are jumping the gun.

“Carson rushed for 1,151 yards and nine touchdowns last season, averaging 4.7 YPC and 8.1 yards per catch,” Behrens said. “He’s actually pretty great. Carson averaged 24.3 touches and 120.8 scrimmage yards per game over the final four weeks last season, so it’s not as if he wore down. Penny’s single-game high in touches last year was 12. As long as both players remain healthy, it would be a mistake to assume that the wildly successful incumbent will lose his grip on the featured role.”

“The Seahawks are going to run early, often and mercilessly this year, so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect Penny to see 10-12 touches per game in his second season,” he continued. “He’s a nice player. Let’s just please not lose sight of the fact that Carson was a monster last year, and he should again lead Seattle’s backfield in usage, yardage, and scoring.”

The Case for Penny

In some respects, Penny’s rookie season was similar to Carson’s—flashes of promise dampened by an inability to stay healthy. However, Penny did average a solid 4.9 yards a carry and over eight yards a reception, and he peeled off a 100-yard game against the Rams in Week 10 on just 12 carries.

As Samantha Sunseri reported for Seahawks Wire, Penny spent his first full NFL season working out with Hall of Fame tailback Marshall Faulk. He’s healthy, shaved a dozen pounds off his 2018 playing weight and said he’s in the best shape of his life.

“I’ve never been hurt playing football in my life, so when that happened,” Penny said, “I just hit a wall. “I’ve just started taking everything seriously by treating my body right and doing the little things. I’m at my best.”

Another Hall of Fame running back wrote at that he’s on board with the idea of Penny breaking out in 2019.

“Penny, who did not start last season, received most of the reps during OTAs and looked comfortable doing so,” Terrell Davis said. “The second-year back battled nagging injuries (finger, knee) in 2018 but is ready to prove why he was a first-round draft pick. With his new approach, expect Penny to make the most of his opportunities, giving him a real shot at taking over the starting job at some point in the first half of the season. As the RB1, Penny’s athleticism and natural ability to be full display this fall in Brian Schottenheimer’s run-first offense.”

Brandon Katz of Fantasy Pros believes that breakout will carry over to the realm of fantasy football as well.

“If Penny were just some standard bust,” he said, “we could easily move on. But he passes the eye test, and if you dig a bit deeper into his numbers, you’ll find a valuable running back. Penny averaged a 15-plus yard run every 9.4 carries, the best rate in the NFL and evidence that he’s more explosive than his 230-pound frame would suggest. His 4.9 YPC and 8.3 yards per reception bested both Carson and (Mike) Davis last year, though those figures admittedly came on limited volume. In five of his last seven games, he averaged north of 5.5 YPC, including a 12-carry, 108-yard performance against the Rams.”

The Verdict

Were one of these tailbacks to get hurt, it would provide a lot more clarity to this situation—and rocket the other back up the rankings at running back. But so long as both backs are healthy, Carroll said he’s in no huge rush to anoint one of the backs as the lead dog.

“A one-two punch,” Carroll said about his backfield duo via John Boyle of the team’s website, “and I don’t know who’s one and who’s two, it doesn’t matter to me. I thought both guys did a really good job this year. Chris Carson had a fantastic season. It’s the first time Chris has had the opportunity to play a whole season all the way through, and it showed what he’s all about. It was exhilarating to watch him have that opportunity and to see him play. The style was great. We love the way he played. Rashaad did a really good job. He got banged up a little bit and it kind of slowed his start. But once he got going, he showed the explosiveness and the speed and the dynamics. Those two guys, they’re good football players and we love what they bring. They’re not the same, their running style are different, but there’s plenty of room for both of those guys, so I’m excited for both of them.”

Fantasy drafters appear to be expecting that either Carson’s knee will remain an issue moving forward or that Penny’s going to see most of Mike Davis’ work from a year ago—there’s just over a 20-pick gap between the two this year. And for whatever it’s worth, Davis was a low-end PPR RB3 in 12-team leagues a year ago in his own right.

But it’s not like one player has demonstrated significantly more durability than the other over their short careers—both have had some difficulty staying healthy. What has been demonstrated by Carson is that he’s absolutely capable of functioning as a 250-carry lead tailback for an NFL team. As a matter of fact, he rather thrived in that role a year ago.

That’s not to say that Penny doesn’t have value in his own right, and if Carson’s absence from the practice field continues then obviously that changes things. But as things stand today, at their respective ADPs, Carson’s the back in Seattle to target—a player who showed he can post high-end RB2 fantasy numbers who’s available after 25 tailbacks have come off the board.

Where do you fall in the Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny debate? For more from Gary and all of our football crew head on over to the 2019 Fantrax Fantasy Football Draft Kit for more great strategy, analysis, and rankings.

A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary Davenport has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications, including the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an eight-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization’s Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last three years. He won the honor in 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. He knows football. Or so he’s heard.

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