Last Sunday, rookie running back Thomas Rawls rushed for 209 yards to lead the Seattle Seahawks to a 29-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. In doing so, he likely worked his way into the Seahawks’ starting lineup for seasons to come.
Rawls started for the injured Marshawn Lynch, and he responded with the biggest rushing performance ever recorded against a 49ers’ defense. In addition to his 209 yards on 30 rushes, Rawls also added three receptions for 46 yards. Most importantly, he scored two touchdowns, one each running and passing.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) November 24, 2015
It was Rawls’ third start this year in place of Lynch, and in each start he’s proven better and better. Rawls saw his first extended action in relief of an injured Lynch in Week 3, a 26-0 blanking of the Chicago Bears, a game where Rawls broke the century mark with 104 yards on 16 carries.
In Week 4, Rawls’ first start, he struggled against the Detroit Lions, gaining only 48 yards on 17 carries. Then, Week 5, Rawls really showed his mettle by scorching the excellent Cincinnati Bengals defense for 169 yards on 23 carries.
Despite starting only 3 of 10 games, Rawls leads the Seahawks in rushing with 604 yards on 101 carries, a gaudy average of 6.0 per rushing attempt. It’s a level of production unexpected for the undrafted rookie free agent out of Central Michigan.
Thomas Rawls is the 1st rookie in NFL history with 250+ scrimmage yards, rush TD & receiving TD in a game pic.twitter.com/yHNCpNiCcc
— Randall Liu (@RLiuNFL) November 23, 2015
So, with Rawls’ emergence as a legitimate running threat, where does that leave Lynch?
Lynch is likely out of Seattle at the end of the season. It’s not that Lynch has worn out his welcome in Seattle, where “the Beast” is a local legend. Rather, it’s just the reality of professional life in the NFL.
Lynch turns 30 in April, and it’s a number that often signals a precipitous decline in production for running backs. There are occasionally exceptions to the rule, but someone with Lynch’s physical running style probably is one of them.
Consider Lynch’s three missed games this year as proof point number one. A player’s greatest ability is his availability, and the normally durable Lynch hasn’t been available for the Seahawks this season.
Then, there’s Lynch’s contract. According to Spotrac, Lynch’s base salary for 2016 is $9 million, and with a pro-rated signing bonus represents a salary cap hit of $11.5 million. For a team with as may holes in the offensive lineup as the Seahawks have, Lynch is too expensive to have on the roster, especially if he’s unavailable to play.
Rawls’ has given Seahawks coaches and fans reason to feel good about the eventual replacement of Lynch. He runs hard, very similar to the Beast, and has the quick burst that allows him to get to the second level. He also holds onto the ball, has hands to be a threat in the passing game and is responsible in blitz pickups.
Rawls looks to be the real deal. And if he stays healthy the rest of the year and continues to shine, he also looks to be the signal that Marshawn Lynch will be playing elsewhere in 2016.
Photo Credit: John Froschauer/AP Photo
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