Now that the 2021 season has officially come to an end with Super Bowl LVI in the books, it's time to look ahead to an offseason that will help shape the Seahawks' fortunes in 2022. With free agency kicking off later this month and the draft following in April, Seahawks.com is taking a position-by-position look at where the team stands. So far we've covered the offensive line, the defensive line, tight end, linebacker, receiver and defensive back, and today we turn our attention to running back. Check back Thursday for a look at where things stand at quarterback.
The Seahawks opened the season with Chris Carson rushing for 91 yards in a win over the Colts, the type of performance they were expecting to see frequently in 2021, but unfortunately Carson's season lasted only four games due to a neck injury, leaving a void at the starting running back spot.
Alex Collins, who in relief of Carson helped spark a comeback in a win over the 49ers, was impressive taking over the starting role, including a 101-yard performance at Pittsburgh, but he too was slowed by injuries, first battling through a groin injury for several weeks, then eventually being shut down late in the season.
The absence of Collins and Carson opened the door for Rashaad Penny, who himself had dealt with injuries early in the season, and the former first-round pick put together one of the best stretches of rushing production in franchise history to close out the season, rushing for 135 or more yards in four of Seattle's final five games, including 170 yards and two touchdowns in Week 17, and 190 yards and a score in Week 18. Penny's 671 yards over the final five weeks of the season were the most in the NFL during that span, and despite having only 119 carries during the season, his eight rushes of 25 or more yards were tied for the most in the NFL with Jonathan Taylor, who had eight such runs in 332 carries. Penny's 6.3 yards-per-carry average was the best in the NFL among players with at least 100 carries.
Behind the trio of Carson, Penny and Collins, DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer both saw limited playing time at running back, but were both big contributors on special teams. In particular, Homer stood out with two special teams scores, one on a fake punt and the other a return of an onside kick.
Question to answer this offseason: Will Rashaad Penny be back?
Prior to his big finish, it appeared Penny's days in Seattle could be coming to an end. Injuries, both minor and serious—his 2019 season was cut short by an ACL injury just as he was seemingly hitting his stride—led to Penny appearing in only 27 games over his first three seasons, then another injury landed him on injured reserve early in the 2021 season.
But after Penny's spectacular finish in which he looked every bit the part of a first-round pick, there is now little doubt that the Seahawks will do everything they can, within reason, to bring him back, either by trying to work something out ahead of the start of the new league year, or by signing him after he hits free agency.
Penny has said he wants to be back, and the hope is that the injuries early in 2021 were just the product of him not being all the way back from his ACL injury. And if Penny can be anything close to the player he was over the final month of the season, he could be a big factor in Seattle's offense next season. How likely it is that the Seahawks re-sign him is hard to gauge given the unpredictability of the running back market in free agency, as well as Penny's injury history, but bringing him back appears to now be a priority given the way he helped spark the offense late in the season.
Biggest reason for optimism in 2022: The late-season running game success, and how that affected the entire offense.
Obviously the preference for the Seahawks would be to re-sign Penny and let him try to pick up in 2022 where he left off late last season, and if he is able to do that, there is every reason to believe the Seahawks running game, which gained 170 or more yards in four of the final five games, including 467 yards in the last two games, will be a huge factor in 2022.
But even if Penny isn't back, the Seahawks are expecting Carson to return from neck surgery, and as good as Carson was, part of that late-season surge also had to do with the offensive line and with the offense as a whole starting to come together in its first season under offensive coordinator Shane Waldron.
No, it isn't realistic to expect 200-plus rushing yards every week, but the Seahawks should be able to count on a better run game going forward based on what they were able to do late last season, and as Carroll has noted on a number of occasions, the Seahawks offense as a whole is at its best when it can feature a productive and explosive running game to complement what Russell Wilson and his weapons can do in the passing game. While Wilson is more than capable of taking over a game with his passing ability, he would be the first to admit that his job is made easier by a good running game, and it's no coincidence that over the last five games in which the running game was so productive, he threw 11 touchdowns with just two interceptions, posting passer rating of 104.1 or better in four of those games.
A look back at some of the best photos of Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny from the 2021 season.