The Seahawks made a somewhat surprising move at the end of training camp in 2009, getting rid of short yardage running back T.J. Duckett and choosing to bring in veteran Edgerrin James to complement Julius Jones.
Duckett was a one-trick pony if there ever was one, but he was effective at that one skill, getting first downs in short-yardage situations. During the 2008 season, Duckett converted 26 of 62 rushes into first downs and finished with eight rushing touchdowns.
However, he gained only 172 yards on the year, averaging a pedestrian 2.8 yards per carry. The Seahawks had hoped to turn Duckett loose more often in 2009, but after watching him struggle to break tackles and get to the edge of the defense on outside zone plays during the preseason, the Seahawks cut Duckett loose and signed James to a one-year deal.
In retrospect, the James signing turned out to be a bad move for Seattle. James was great in the locker room, but he no longer had the explosive burst he possessed in his early years in the league. James finished with 125 yards on 46 carries for a 2.7 yards-per-carry average – numbers eerily reminiscent of Duckett. The Seahawks cut James after a Week 8 loss at Dallas. James was expendable because Justin Forsett had taken on a larger role in the team’s running game.
But with Duckett and James no longer in the fold, Seattle struggled to convert first downs in short-yardage situations. According to Stats.Inc, the Seahawks converted 57.6 percent of their rushing attempts on third and short (3rd and three or less) into first downs, putting them tied for 26 overall in the league.
That number was much better in 2008 with Duckett on the team. Seattle converted 70.4 percent of third and short situations that season, good enough for 10th overall in the league.
Seattle was a respectable 17 of 27 (63 percent) on converting third-and-one situations. They threw the ball 10 of 27 (37 percent) times on third and one, converting six of those plays into first downs. According to this article for Advanced NFL stats, those numbers are in line with how much NFL teams throw in third and one situations.
Seattle’s throws on third and one included Seneca Wallace’s one-yard touchdown to Julius Jones after Matt Hasselbeck suffered a rib injury in San Francisco. Hasselbeck’s play-action pass to a wide-open John Carlson at Arizona was another nice call on third and short.
However, some of Seattle’s failure’s on third and one were a microcosm of the team’s season. Deion Branch’s eight-yard loss on a reverse in a close game against Chicago comes to mind.
And add Hasselbeck’s interception to linebacker A.J. Hawk against Green Bay to that list. Seattle had ran the ball seven of the first eight plays of that drive against the Packers, but for some, curious reason chose to run a naked bootleg on third and a yard from the 36-yard line, changing the momentum of that game to Green Bay’s favor.
With Seattle’s struggles on third and short last season, it’s apparent they need a reliable, big back to help convert short-yardage situations. Having a big back like Duckett will give Seattle a better chance of keeping defenses honest in third and short situations, so they don’t have to rely on gadget plays like a reverse to trick the defense on third and short.
And while many mock drafts have Seattle taking C.J. Spiller in the first round, the Seahawks might better be served taking a big back later in the draft. This year’s draft is deep in running back talent. Players like Auburn’s Ben Tate (5-11, 220), Stanford’s Toby Gerhart (6-0, 231), Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer (5-11, 229), Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount (6-1, 241) and Tennessee’s Montario Hardesty (6-0, 225) would fill that need.
Another interesting prospect is LSU’s Charles Scott (6-0, 238). Scott served as the Tigers’ short-yardage back last season and has proven he can get it done. And the Seahawks could get Scott in the later rounds of the draft.