Now that the 2022 NFL season is over, it's time to look ahead to an offseason that will help shape the Seahawks' fortunes in 2023 and beyond. With free agency kicking off next month and the draft following in April, Seahawks.com is taking a position-by-position look at where the team stands prior to the start of the new league year. So far this week, we've covered, quarterback and safety, and today we focus on running back. Check back Thursday when we turn our attention to cornerback.
The Seahawks opened the 2022 season with Rashaad Penny and the running game looking to pick up where they left off in 2021, when Penny finished the season as the NFL's most productive running back over the final five weeks of the year. Penny did get off to a strong start, including a 151-yard, two-touchdown performance against Detroit. But after averaging 6.1 yards per carry through four-plus games, Penny unfortunately went down with a season-ending leg injury in Seattle's Week 5 game in New Orleans.
And while Penny was certainly missed, his injury wasn't the crushing blow it could have been to Seattle's running game thanks to the team's decision last spring to use a second-round pick on Kenneth Walker III.
Walker scored on a 69-yard run after taking over for Penny in that Week 5 game, and went on to lead all NFL rookies in rushing yards (1,050), yards from scrimmage (1,215) and touchdowns (9). Walker, the second rookie in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards, along with Curt Warner, finished a close second in AP Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, actually earning more first-place votes that the winner, Jets receiver Garrett Wilson.
The running game went through a bit of a rough patch in the second half of the season, in part due to ankle injuries that limited both Walker and DeeJay Dallas, but that unit finished strong and should be poised to be a strength of the offense in 2023.
Dallas was one of the team's unsung heroes for his versatile play on offense and his big role on special teams, while Travis Homer was solid as a third-down back and a standout special teamer when healthy, though he did miss seven games.
Question to answer this offseason: Will Seattle re-sign Rashaad Penny?
After briefly becoming a free agent last spring, Penny re-signed with the Seahawks on a one-year deal, meaning he once again can hit the open market if he isn't re-signed before the start of the new league year. The emergence of Walker means the Seahawks have an elite back whether or not Penny returns, but considering how often Pete Carroll has talked over the years about wanting a one-two punch at running back, bringing Penny back could make a lot of sense even with the emergence of Walker.
Running back in particular is a position that tends to be affected by injuries given the physical nature of the job, so there's a lot of value in having what essentially would be two starters sharing the load.
The Seahawks have other decisions to make at running back, with Travis Homer also set to become an unrestricted free agent. Homer hasn't had a huge role on offense during his time in Seattle, but he is highly valued by coaches for his special teams play and just his overall mentality and approach to the game. Godwin Igwebuike, who was great as a kick returner late in the season, is an exclusive rights free agent, meaning he will be back as long as the Seahawks want him, and it would seem very likely that will be the case given how big of a spark he provided in the return game.
Biggest reason for optimism in 2023: Kenneth Walker III looks like a budding superstar.
While Penny's injury was an unfortunate one for both him and the team, it did open the door for Walker to show why he wsa so highly thought of by the Seahawks coming out of the draft. Being able to turn a routine running play into a long touchdown run is incredibly rare in the NFL given the caliber of athletes on opposing defenses, but Walker, much like Penny, showed he has that type of ability that separates good NFL backs from the truly elite. Walker would be the first to tell you that he can still improve, and some late-season changes did make a difference as he finished the regular season with three straight 100-yard games, but even as an unfinished product, it's clear the Seahawks have a special player in Walker.
"He is good, man," Carroll said after Walker eclipsed 1,000 yards in a Week 18 win. "I'm impressed with him. The plays that he makes and the bursts that he has and the creativity and how tough he is… We have a tough guy. We have a guy that loves to play. He doesn't even flinch. He doesn't even flinch. He is going back out again. He isn't worried about nothing. I love to compete with him, and he is really talented."
Even better for next season would be a scenario in which Penny returns, giving the Seahawks a pair of homerun threats in their backfield who can share the workload to keep either from getting overworked, as well as insurance that they have an elite back available even if one of the two were to miss time.