The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a lot of uncertainty around their running back position, but there is an ideal solution out there for the team to pursue this off-season.
The running back position has been one of the more difficult units for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to solve over the last five years.
For two shining seasons they got elite play out of Doug Martin, but everything in between was league-worst, forcing the team into an unbalanced pass-happy attack. A good chunk of quarterback Jameis Winston‘s struggles can be traced back to this complete lack of running game to lean on.
The 2018 NFL Draft was a prime opportunity to fix this issue, but like so many other aspects of effective team-building, the Bucs blew it.
Tampa was in prime position to use their second-round pick on an all-around talent like Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson but instead opted for USC’s Ronald Jones. The pick has backfired in about every way imaginable – Jones was a healthy scratch for the beginning of the season and was ineffective when seeing the field. He then injured his hamstring and has been on the sideline recovering ever since.
It’s certainly too early to close the door on Jones entirely, but the Buccaneers must acquire another running back this off-season to compete with Jones, particularly with starter Peyton Barber looking at free agency.
They may look to the draft, but I suggest another option: trading for Seattle’s Chris Carson.
Now, I’m not typically one to suggest trade targets, because more often than not it’s too hard to predict that type of thing. However, in Carson’s case, the situation is too perfect for the Buccaneers to ignore.
Carson, 24 years old, was a 7th round draft pick of the Seahawks in the 2017 Draft, and as a rookie showed some promise in a small-sample-size before breaking his leg.
With Chris Carson’s recovery uncertain, the Seahawks made the somewhat surprising move to select another running back in Rashaad Penny with their first-round pick in the 2018 Draft.
With Mike Davis also in tow, the Seahawks suddenly had an extremely crowded backfield but most assumed that the first round pick Penny would get the lead-dog status given where he was selected.
Carson had other ideas. The seventh-round pick outdid the first rounder across the board in training camp, preseason and the beginning of the season, leaving head coach Pete Carroll with no choice: Play Carson, and play him a lot.
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Ever since, Carson has been Seattle’s workhorse back with the other two guys sprinkled in to give him a break. He’s had games with 32 carries and 25 carries, showing just how eager the Seahawks are to feed him.
When Carson went down with multiple injuries a few weeks ago, the stage was set for Penny to take the reigns, and yet Seattle still stuck with Carson. In nine games thus far this season, Carson has rushed 144 times for 635 yards, four touchdowns, and an impressive 4.4 yards-per-carry average.
To truly appreciate the budding star of Carson, statistics aren’t enough. Carson runs with as much juice as any running back in the league, constantly moving piles and shedding arm tackles. At 5’11, 222 pounds with remarkable strength and balance, Carson is extremely tough to bring down and has the quickness to match with power. He is, in short terms, a high-level athlete. This most recent weekend Carson pulled off a feat of pure athleticism that you’ll rarely see on a football field:
A modern-day workhorse running back must have chops in the passing game as a receiver, and Carson is capable there as well.
Though his forte is early-down work, Carson can pick up blitzes, has natural hands catching the ball, and has shown he’s capable of making big plays on screen passes.
The most important part about Carson is cost. The Seahawks would be glad to get any compensation for a seventh-round player at a devalued position like running back, especially when they just invested a first round pick in one.
The Buccaneers could very likely get a deal done for a fourth-round pick along with a sixth or seventh round pick. Carson would remain under his rookie contract through the 2019 and 2020 seasons. It’s extremely rare that a talented player in the middle of their rookie contract becomes available for trade, but Carson and the Seahawks are a unique case.
Barber’s impending free agency makes the search for a running back all the more important. The Buccaneers are no longer swimming in salary cap space like they had been for the last decade, so it’s important that they be savvy with where they spend money.
In the case of Chris Carson, they can both upgrade in talent and pay less for him than they would re-sign Barber. For these reasons, Jason Licht (or his replacement) should be ready to call Seattle as soon as the season ends.