The Elephant in the Locker Room: Who’s Likely to Back up Marshawn This Season

Hawks-150After two Super Bowl appearances in a row, everyone’s paying attention… yet even with all the scrutiny, it seems that there’s always some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our NFC West Champions.

By Greg Wright

It’s nice to see Marshawn Lynch in camp, and it’s even nicer to know he’s healthy.

It’s nicest to know he’s happy about his contract right now… unlike a certain Chancellor.

As has been the case for the last three seasons, though, one of the biggest questions on the offensive side of the ball is… who’s the number two running back?

10929570_896221513756256_2537007578910846103_nThe Seahawks drafted Robert Turbin in the 4th round of the 2012 draft out of Utah State, and he quickly established himself as Lynch’s backup. He’s ended up playing that role for the three seasons he’s been with Seattle, averaging exactly 4.0 yards per carry on 231 touches for a total of 928 yards.

Turbin’s more-or-less solid performance, however, did not stop the Seahawks from spending a second round draft pick on Christine Michael in the 2013 draft. He has, nonetheless, not dislodged Turbin from the number-two spot on the depth chart, despite averaging 4.9 yards on 52 carries over the last two seasons.

The third name in the mix this year is undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls out of Central Michigan. Observers at training camp have reported that Rawls has made a big impression on coaches.

Who will win the backup competition? It’s hard to say, of course, though Seattle will undoubtedly keep three running backs on the roster.

But let’s take a closer look at Robert Turbin, shall we? There are some things about his performance and contract situation that have been pretty overlooked… and which might factor into the “competition” that Pete Carroll and company always encourage.

First, Turbin’s raw numbers suggest that he’s not the caliber of back that Lynch is… and that’s always what you’re looking for: a backup that can not only step in if the main guy is hurt, but actually equal or outperform the guy he’s replacing. Turbin’s 4.0 ypc is not a bad average for an NFL back, but it’s not stellar, either. Lynch has averaged 4.3 yards for his career, and you’d probably want at least a 4.2 ypc guy to replace him.

Is it fair to say, conclusively, that Turbin is not that back?

Not really. Turbin’s career numbers are tainted by lots of short-yardage ball-protection carries in the late going of games in which the Hawks were just running out the clock. Worse yet, Turbin has had the misfortune of having all of his longest career carries nullified by dumb formation and holding penalties that had no effect on sprints of 20, 30, and 40 yards. In 2013 alone, Turbin lost 100 yards on three such “no play” touches. So on film, Turbin has looked much better than his raw stats.

In two games last season, Turbin did get enough touches to get a sense of what he might look like as a full-time back. Against the Rams at the end of the season, he carried 11 times for a 4.8-yard average against a tough run defense. Earlier in the year at the Raiders, he carried 5 times for a 7.0-yard average. So when he does come off the bench as part of the offensive game plan, he does perform.

Better, he excels as a receiver out of the backfield, averaging 9.9 yards per reception to Lynch’s 7.9-yard average. That’s a pretty big difference.

One knock on Turbin, however, is his ball handling. While he’s only fumbled once in his 275 career carries and receptions, he’s put the ball on the ground several times as a kick returner–a bad enough performance to completely end the 2013 season experiment with Turbin as a Special Teams specialist.

Complicating matters is the fact that Turbin is in the final year of his cheap rookie deal. Scheduled to make just over $600K this season, he hasn’t had the Hawks come knocking on his door to sign him to a lucrative extension like Bobby Wagner’s or Russell Wilson’s. Do the Hawks continue to invest in a player that will likely become a free agent at the end of the season and get better pay with a team that really needs a starter-caliber back?

Will the Hawks be ready to move on from Lynch at the end of this season, and make Turbin the Back of the Future?

Turbin has changed numbers from 22 to 32 this year, so maybe he feels an upgrade in the offing.

Or… will Christine Michael be the new Robert Turbin?

As much as I like Turbo, I have to guess that he won’t make the cut this year. Michael has just looked too good not to keep developing, and Rawls will most likely be the number three back.

Either Michael or Turbin will be odd man out… and the New Seahawks Reality of contract complications has destroyed the level playing field of competition. “Affordable” is the new “effective.”

Enjoy watching the backups battle it out during pre-season… but don’t expect Turbin to be around come opening day.

Do expect him to develop a good career elsewhere.

Share Your Opinion

By participating in our online comment system, you are agreeing to abide by the terms of our comment policy.

...and oh, if you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!