Chris Carson owns back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and a top-10 finish last year. Is he worth a starting spot in your fantasy backfield?
Chris Carson was a top 10 running back in 2019. The year before that he was top 15.
Despite his past success, fantasy players do not trust the Seattle running back heading into 2020. He has quietly experienced a drop in ADP, slowly slipping further in drafts each month. It may not just be a Carson problem, as his counterpart in the backfield, Rashaad Penny, is also dipping.
IDP Guys/DFD ADP
Carson’s current ADP in ESPN fantasy leagues is 37.9, making him the 17th ball carrier off the board.
That puts Carson, 2019‘s ninth-best RB, behind a rookie (Clyde Edwards-Helaire), second-year breakout candidates (Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders), a player on the trade block (Leonard Fournette), and a guy with the knees of a senior citizen (Todd Gurley).
Is Chris Carson a steal in the fourth round? Or will he fail to repeat his success, frustratingly taking up a spot on your bench? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the polarizing Carson and assess whether he, once again, can be a top fantasy running back.
Pro: Chris Carson’s sustained production
The biggest factor in favor of Carson is past production. Last year he had 1,230 rushing yards with 7 touchdowns in 15 games. In 2018 he rushed for 1,151 and 9 touchdowns in just 14 games.
Both years, Carson finished the season fifth in rushing yards. The only other running back to be top-five both years was Ezekiel Elliott. That’s some pretty good company.
Additionally, he as been efficient while racking up those impressive numbers. He has a career 4.5 yards per carry average, proving that he can get the job done without needing a bunch of carries. Luckily for Carson, he does get a bunch. He has finished in the top ten in carries each of the past two seasons with 247 and 278 respectively.
A big reason for those high number of rushing attempts stems from the Seattle offensive philosophy. Fans of the team know that the Seahawks love to run the football, sometimes a little too much. The team finished third in the league in rushing attempts last season with 481. In 2018 they rushed with even greater frequency – 534 times, good for second-most in the league.
Con: Crowded backfield
While the Seahawks love to run the football, it’s no guarantee that Chris Carson will be a recipient of all the rushing attempts. Despite Carson’s nearly 300 attempts last year, Penny still got 65 carries. In 2018, Penny had 85 carries for a total of 150 over the two seasons. Not a huge number, but a significant amount of carries that could have been given to Carson.
The other problem with those carries by Penny is what he was able to do with them. He also has been incredibly efficient when carrying the rock, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. In 2019 Penny’s 5.9 YPC was the second-best mark in the league among backs with 50+ carries.
Fortunately for Carson, it looks like injury will cause Penny will miss the first part of the season.
In addition to Penny, there is another player that could prove to be a problem for Chris Carson: Carlos Hyde. The Seahawks signed the veteran Hyde to a one-year deal at the end of May.
Hyde has over 4,000 rushing yards in his career and is coming off a 1,045-yard season with the Houston Texans. He also has two 900-plus yard seasons under his belt from the start of his career in San Francisco. Hyde is not expected to be used as frequently in Seattle as he was in Houston, where he had 245 carries. However, he may get more carries than a typical backup because of his proven track record.
Pro: Increased role in the passing game
Chris Carson’s rushing numbers did not change much from 2018 to 2019, but his fantasy finish improved from RB14 to RB9. This uptick in fantasy scoring comes from Carson’s increased contribution in the passing game.
Targeted just 24 times in 2018, he compiled 163 yards and no touchdowns. Last year Carson saw his targets nearly double to 47, converting them into 266 yards and two touchdowns.
Seattle’s concerted effort last off-season to increase Carson’s role in their offense through the air, paid off. That does not look to be any different in 2020. Seattle did not sign or draft a pass-catching specialist at the position, showing the trust the organization has in Carson as a three-down back going forward.
Con: Uncertainty on the O-line
One of the biggest reasons to be skeptical of Chris Carson this season is not his fault.
The Seahawks’ offensive line has long been a weakness. They improved in 2019, but are still far from a line that a back like Carson would want to run behind.
Seattle returns just two of their offensive line starters from last year – LT Duane Brown and LG Mike Iupati. They released C Justin Britt and RG DJ Fluker, and watched tackles Germain Ifedi and George Fant leave in free agency.
The team failed to address those holes with key free agents or high draft picks. They look to be replacing Britt with fourth-year pro Joey Hunt, who has 11 career starts to his name. The remaining starting spots will go to whoever emerges from their group of unproven young guys and uninspiring free agent additions.
Although Carson has succeeded despite questionable offensive line play in the past, he is running behind a majority of new bodies this season. That uncertainty and unfamiliarity may be problematic for Carson.
Pro: Helpful Schedule
There is a silver lining for Chris Carson and his offensive line – they may not face many top-tier run defenses this season.
None of the Seahawks’ divisional rivals were very successful against the run in 2019. The 49ers were the best of the bunch, but they still allowed the 17th most rushing yards in the league. The Rams were not too far behind at 19th, while the Cardinals allowed the 24th most.
The rest of the 2020 schedule is not much more difficult. The team plays just four games against defenses that were top 10 against the run in 2019 – The Patriots (week 2), Bills (wk 9), Eagles (wk 12), and Jets (wk 14). Additionally they get two games against teams in the bottom ten against the run in 2017, playing the Dolphins in week 4 and the Redskins in week 15.
There is no guarantee that these teams will repeat their poor performances, but it is good Carson is not projected to play through a stretch of tough run defenses.
Con: Questionable consistency
To have complete trust in a running back on your fantasy team, there needs to be zero questions about that player. Two big question marks have plagued Chris Carson’s career so far.
The first is injuries. Carson has ended two of his three seasons in the NFL on the IR, including last year. While expected to be fully healthy by the season’s start, it is possible that he still has some lingering issues.
The other issue that Carson has struggled with is fumbling. He coughed up the ball seven times last year, the most for any running back in the league. He also had three fumbles in 2018, showing his fumbling issues are no one-year fluke. Not only are the turnovers a loss of points, there is a bigger issue if Carson is not able to get it under control. It could result in a loss of carries if the team is not confident that he can protect the rock.