Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Is Chris Carson a sneaky RB1 candidate?

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

It’s tough to find many NFL players who have overcome the odds better than rising fifth-year RB Chris Carson, who has largely done nothing other than ball the hell out since the Seahawks drafted him in the seventh round of the 2017 draft. While playing 16 games is something that still hasn’t been accomplished, few backs run with the same sort of ferocity that Carson has displayed on a near every-down basis over the years.

The Seahawks retained Carson’s services this previous offseason via a two-year, $10.4 million contract. There’s enough guaranteed salary in 2021 for this to essentially just be a one-year deal; this might very well be Carson’s last season wearing silver and blue (also bright green, I guess).

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What follows is a breakdown on just how good Carson has been with the Seahawks as well as what to make of his fantasy football value ahead of 2021.

Carson has almost always been awesome when healthy enough to suit up

The Seahawks’ often banged-up RB1 has played in 45 of a potential 64 games since entering the league. Never one to back down from an extra shot at the end of the run, Carson has paid a price for his physical running style in the form of a foot sprain, hip fracture and broken ankle over the years.

Still, Carson has been a tough man to get to the ground when healthy enough to suit up, which has been for at least 13 games in three straight seasons (including playoffs). He finds himself near the top of the leaderboard in pretty much any metric among 115 RBs with at least 100 carries since 2017:

  • PFF rushing grade: 86.6 (No. 12)
  • Missed tackles forced per rush: 0.2 (tied for No. 15)
  • Yards per carry: 4.6 (tied for No. 25)
  • Yards after contact per rush: 3.4 (No. 5)
  • 1st down or TD percentage: 26.4% (No. 9)

The Seahawks’ undisputed RB1 was largely the same player as ever in 2020 for the 12 regular season games that he was active. Overall, Carson worked as the fantasy RB12 in PPR points per game (min. 100 touches) in 2020 after finishing as a borderline RB1 in 2019 (RB12) and 2018 (RB16).

Yes, Carson was unable to consistently hold on to the football in 2019, fumbling the ball on seven separate occasions. Also yes, this largely hasn’t been a problem otherwise, as Carson has let the ball hit the ground on just four of his other 501 touches throughout his career.

We’ve also seen Carson grade out favorably as a receiver. He’s caught a more than respectable 92.7% of his career catchable targets and at least not been a consistent liability as a pass-blocker.  

All in all, Carson grades out as PFF’s 11th-best RB over the past four seasons among 166 qualified backs. He’s objectively been a great player at the position and finds himself back in the only offense he’s ever known — one that just so happens to apparently want to give him the ball more than ever before.

Surprise surprise: The Seahawks want to run the damn ball

Some of the quotes from Seahawks HC Pete Carroll from last January following the Seahawks Wild Card loss to the Rams are downright nauseating:

“We have to run the ball better, not even better, we have to run it more. We have to dictate what’s going on with the people that we’re playing, and that’s one of the ways to do that.

“Remember, I don’t mind winning, 20-9. I don’t mind winning, 17-14. I want to win controlling the game. That means we don’t give them the football.

“I know the fans aren’t real jacked on hearing that, but Russ knows it, too. We need to be able to knock those guys into the scheme that we want to throw at.

“It’s a football thing. It’s a scheme thing. I want to see if we can run the ball more effectively to focus the play of the opponents and see if we can force them to do things like we like them to do.”

Sheesh. Perhaps Carroll was just a victim of the moment and will allow new OC Shane Waldron to run the offense as he sees fit. At a minimum, it’s tough to see this offense becoming too pass happy in the immediate future considering the wishes of the ole ball coach.

Not great news for just about anybody, other than Carson, who is more ingrained than ever at the top of the depth chart after Carlos Hyde took his talents to Jacksonville. Former first-round pick Rashaad Penny is seemingly healthy after recovering from his horrific 2019 knee injury; perhaps he can finally put together a full season and more consistently display some of the explosive flashes we’ve seen over the years.

Incumbent backups Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas and Alex Collins don’t figure to have weekly roles unless one of Carson or Penny miss time. The team didn’t use any of its (three) draft picks on the position, meaning Carson finds himself in arguably the coziest position of his career in terms of job security.

Add it all together and …

Don’t underestimate Carson putting together one last big year

Presently boasting an ADP as the RB19 over at Underdog Fantasy, Carson certainly seems to be priced closer to his floor than ceiling at the moment. I’ve found myself dropping him a bit throughout the offseason as it’s become more clear that 1) Penny is expected to have some level of a role if healthy, and 2) some of these younger RBs like Antonio Gibson and Najee Harris have similar if not higher touch ceilings with far less tread on their tires. Still, I’ve found myself drafting a good amount of Carson in best-ball land due to my still-enhanced ranking compared to the public.

Ultimately, I have Carson as the RB16 at the moment in my third tier: “With some luck these dudes could bounce up two tiers. He’s the clear primary back in a perennial top-10 scoring offense. Are the injury concerns real? Absolutely, but this is true for pretty much any high-usage RB. We’ve seen the likes of Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley largely all gets passes for nearly missing an entire season over the years, while injury predictor Twitter holds recent issues against guys like Joe Mixon and Carson more heavily for whatever reason.

Friends don’t let friends forget Carson is an absolute monster (or that he jumped over a guy one time).

The biggest concern is whether or not we see a true split backfield. Penny was largely an afterthought in 2018, but there was a two-week stretch in 2019 when both he and Carson were unleashed in tandem in wins over the Eagles and Vikings:

  1. Carson: 8-26-0 rushing, 4-31-0 receiving, 51% snaps. Penny: 14-129-1 rushing, 0-0-0 receiving, 49% snaps
  2. Carson: 23-102-1 rushing, 1-7-0 receiving, 52% snaps. Penny 15-74-1 rushing, 4-33-1 receiving, 47% snaps

Carson is fully expected to be the clear-cut touch leader and accordingly deserves to be ranked as a mid-tier fantasy RB2 at worst. Still, Penny might be going a bit under the radar for zero-RB faithful. The decision to not bring back Hyde or sign any other talent of consequence can only be seen as a positive development for the often-injured 25-year-old talent.

Penny is presently going off the board as the RB50 in the handcuff mix; he deserves to be added in this range and is a prime late-round pick for those looking to spend higher draft capital elsewhere. There’s an argument to be made that Penny has a better chance of offering weekly flex value than more true handcuff guys with a higher ADP like Alexander Mattison and Tony Pollard.


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