This offseason the Seattle Seahawks told running back Shaun Alexander, the NFL's 2005 Most Valuable Player, that enough was enough and it was time for a change. Alexander's stellar performance that season, which included 1,880 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns, was rewarded with an eight-year, $62 million contract. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the following two seasons were a disaster. Alexander flamed out, setting career lows in yards per carry in successive years and posting his lowest rushing yard totals since playing part-time as a rookie.
At least part of the blame for his struggles can be attributed to injuries: a fractured foot in '06 and a fractured left wrist, twisted knee and twisted ankle in '07. The loss of All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson (Minnesota Vikings) in free agency also hurt. Some may even choose to blame it on the curse of the Madden video game cover. Whatever the reasons, Alexander had hit rock bottom and was released following the free-agent acquisition of former Dallas Cowboys halfback Julius Jones.
The post-Alexander backfield
Jones joins a crowded backfield that includes tailback Maurice Morris, who played well in Alexander's absence the past two seasons, and running back T.J. Duckett, another offseason addition. Most fantasy owners have assumed that Jones will rise to the top of the depth chart, selecting him early in the fifth round, on average. Meanwhile, Morris and Duckett are going undrafted in many leagues with Morris lasting until the 14th round when selected, and Duckett going two rounds after that. However, according to head coach Mike Holmgren, Jones will be sharing time with Morris on an equal basis this season.
Jones, who spent the last three seasons splitting time with Cowboys running back Marion Barber III, is used to a timeshare and is unlikely to find the arrangement to be a distraction. Last season was a disappointment by any measure for Jones as he posted career lows in rushing yards (588), yards per game (36.8), yards per carry (3.6) and touchdowns (two). While you can quickly dismiss the totals as a result of a transition to Barber, it was Jones' ineffectiveness that opened the door. Jones remained the starter in name only but failed to impress on a weekly basis, never rushing for more than 70 yards in a single game last season.
While Morris' career statistics won't jump off the page, he did boast a solid 4.5 yards-per-carry average and 15.2 receiving yards per game last season. Holmgren has coached Morris since he was drafted by Seahawks in 2002. It would not be surprising to see Holmgren, whose tenure in Seattle concludes at season's end, turn to Morris out of impatience should Jones stumble out of the gates.
Duckett was last seen on the fantasy radar as a touchdown vulture with the Atlanta Falcons, scoring 27 times from 2003 through 2005. Since that time, Duckett played in diminished roles with the Washington Redskins in '06 and the Detroit Lions in '07. In Seattle, Duckett's role remains uncertain, though he has shown in years past to be a capable short-yardage back.
Fullback Leonard Weaver, who emerged as a solid receiver last season following a career-ending injury to the fullback Mack Strong, is also on roster and should contribute in a similar capacity this season.
Whoever gets the rock in Seattle should have elite left tackle Walter Jones and former Pro Bowl guard Mike Wahle, who was added as a free agent during the offseason, to create lanes in front of them. New offensive line coach Mike Solari found tremendous success in that role for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1997 to 2005. While the offensive line appears to have both the brains and the brawn to support a good running attack, look for the Seahawks to once again focus more on the passing game as they did throughout much of 2007.
Fantasy football outlook
The Seahawks' stable of running backs is full of possibilities. With Holmgren desperate to win a championship in what he says will be his final season, its possible Jones, Morris and Duckett will all, at some point, get their opportunity to carry the load.
However, entering the season fantasy owners should view Jones and Morris as essentially equals. Both carry value as weak No. 3 or strong No. 4 fantasy backs, which makes Jones highly overvalued and Morris equally undervalued thus far in polled drafts. Duckett could be a decent fifth option as a late-round selection.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.
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