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4 Reasons I’d Rather Own Thomas Rawls Than C.J. Prosise

I was very excited about C.J. Prosise going into the NFL draft. Like many RotoViz readers, his name was in bold on my spreadsheets. Dreams of grabbing a little-known running back who would go on to fantasy stardom were dancing in my head. I was even more excited when my hometown team, the Seahawks, drafted Prosise and pledged to immediately get him on the field.

That excitement faded, however, as Prosise’s ADP quickly rose post-draft. He has now cemented himself as a late first-round rookie pick and is being taken in the ninth round of startup drafts. No longer a cheap rookie with big upside, fantasy drafters expect Prosise to deliver and are pricing in that expectation.

Meanwhile, Thomas Rawls, the likely early-down Seahawks running back, is dropping in price. That surprises me because…

Rawls is Really Good at Football

Last season, by Pro Football Focus run grade on a per snap basis, Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls were Nos. 1 and 2… in the entire NFL. Even though he only played about half a season, Rawls finished with the fourth highest PFF run grade. Two of the three players ahead of him had over twice as many snaps in which to increase their score. Just behind Rawls, at No. 5, was Le’Veon Bell, who also out-snapped Rawls.

I like the PFF run grades because they make an attempt to separate RB from O-Line performance, but if you don’t like them, let’s look at traditional stats instead. Rawls was No. 3 in the NFL in yards per carry (at 5.6). He was No. 4 in the NFL in yards after contact per carry (at 3.1). And even though Rawls is known more for his physical running style than his juke moves, he still finished in the top quarter (at No. 17) in missed tackles per carry.

I get that Rawls was undrafted, but in my own logistic regression models for predicting successful NFL running backs, first year NFL performance turns out to be at least as important as draft pedigree, and on that measure, Rawls hits it out of the park.

It is also worth noting that the Seahawks are a team that prides itself on the number of their starting players that went undrafted: guys like Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, starting left tackle Garry Gilliam, and starting center Patrick Lewis. The success of their undrafted players is a key part of the pitch they make to sign UDFAs to their team. You can bet that Thomas Rawls’s name was highly featured in the brochure they sent out to undrafted free agents this year. Hence, there is some reason to think that draft capital matters less to the Seahawks than to most other teams.

Given how good he was last season and the Seahawks stated beliefs about draft capital, I expect Rawls to be their early-down running back. That means I have a good sense of what to expect from Rawls because…

I’m Not Betting on the Seahawks Playing Differently

C.J. Prosise is widely expected to take over the third-down role this season. Indeed, the Seahawks themselves have stated this fairly clearly. If we assume that happens, then we may wonder how valuable Rawls can be when splitting snaps in a committee with Prosise.

However, we have a pretty good idea of what that would look like because Rawls was already in a committee with Fred Jackson, an accomplished pass catching back. When Rawls was the primary rusher, Jackson saw over 60 percent of the RB targets. (Rawls averaged only 1.5 targets per game.) This is in contrast to when Marshawn Lynch played. Both Lynch and Rawls saw 80+ percent of the RB carries, but when Beast Mode was the primary rusher, Jackson saw only 30 percent of the RB targets. Overall, in their committee, Rawls saw 59 percent of the snaps and Jackson 28 percent.

So how did Rawls perform splitting snaps with Jackson? In his six games as primary rusher, Rawls averaged 19.2 PPG and had one game in which he scored over 40 points. Hence, it seems clear that, even if he’s only used on early downs, Rawls has a very high ceiling.

It is also worth noting that Rawls’s 40-point game wasn’t simply due to a few huge runs. He also had 30 carries in the game. Over the six game stretch, Rawls averaged 21 carries per game. So even if we were to lower his 5.6 yards per carry to a more reasonable 4.5, Rawls was on pace to finish as the second highest scoring RB in PPR (just ahead of Adrian Peterson).

Hence, in addition to his very high ceiling, Rawls also has a solid floor from being the primary workhorse on a run-heavy team. (While some are speculating that the Seahawks will start passing more, Pete Carroll stated again post-draft that he is committed to a run-heavy approach.) Vegas also predicts the Seahawks to win 10.5 games next season (tied for most), so game flow is less of a worry for Rawls than most other backs.

In contrast to Rawls’s fairly solid floor as the early-down back, Prosise’s potential role as the third down back is less exciting because…

Seahawks Secondary RBs Have Not Been Valuable

As noted above, Prosise is expected to take over the role filled by Fred Jackson last season. In the six games where he split snaps with Rawls, Jackson was on pace to finish with less than 100 fantasy points, leaving him outside the top 50 in PPR.

To be fair, Coach Carroll has said they are going to try to find ways to get Prosise on the field more often, and I believe him. Perhaps they will be able get his snaps up from the 28 percent of Fred Jackson to, say, the 42 percent of Charles Sims. But betting on Prosise means betting on the Seahawks changing the way they use their RBs, while Rawls only needs the Seahawks to stay their run-heavy, win-heavy course.

Even if Prosise does get to Charles Sims-like snaps, that doesn’t necessarily spell doom for Rawls. For if Rawls were to get Doug Martin-like snaps, that would barely be a drop at all (57 vs 59 percent) from what he saw in his committee with Fred Jackson. And if Rawls turns out to be Doug Martin, that would be a win for those who drafted him since Martin is being taken in the early fourth round.

Furthermore, if Charles Sims is on the upper end of what Prosise can achieve, then why not just draft Sims, who is going a round later than Prosise, and has already proven he can be valuable in a third-down role?  Or why not take Theo Riddick, whose coach is also talking about finding ways of getting him on the field more often and who is being drafted four rounds later than Prosise?

Rawls is Cheap

As those ADP comparisons make clear, the C.J. Prosise hype train is going full speed. And unless we see something radically different from Seahawks RB usage this season, Prosise looks over-priced.

On the other hand, the one who has been suffering from the Prosise hype train is Thomas Rawls, whose ADP has fallen almost a full round (into T.J. Yeldon territory) and shows no signs of stopping. The drop so far is already worth a late third-round rookie pick, per the RotoViz dynasty trade calculator.

I’m picking up Rawls wherever I can get him. To me, no RBs being drafted at his ADP or later, aside from Mark Ingram and LeSean McCoy, who are declining assets being punished for their ages, have a higher chance of delivering an RB1 season. And with Rawls yet to turn 23, he could deliver RB1 value for several seasons to come.

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