Shortly after the 2015 NFL season, five-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl XLVIII Champion Marshawn Lynch announced his retirement from the National Football League after nine seasons with both the Buffalo Bills and the Seattle Seahawks. Lynch was one of the most dominant running backs in the NFL, and while his retirement may seem like a major hole to fill in the Seattle backfield, they may already have the answer to their concerns in 2015 undrafted free agent rookie running back Thomas Rawls.
Thomas Rawls is Bound for Stardom
The former Central Michigan and University of Michigan running back was absolutely phenomenal throughout his rookie year, as he piled up 830 yards on the ground in 13 games to go along with four touchdowns. He also caught nine passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
While Rawls may not have the touchdown numbers that scream that he is going to be a star, he does have the rushing numbers that lead to the belief that something may be there for the 22 year old. Rawls finished in the top 20 in rushing yards last season, and finished well ahead of players like DeMarco Murray, Mark Ingram, and fellow rookies T.J. Yeldon and Melvin Gordon. Along with those numbers, Rawls finished the season with the most average yards after contact with 2.68 yards.
The fact that he finished with more rushing yards than many of his rookie counterparts is extremely telling of how well he played as a rookie. Rawls, unlike Yeldon and Gordon, was not even the number one running back on the Seahawks depth chart for most of the season; whenever Lynch was healthy, Rawls took a backseat and resided on the bench for a majority of the game. In the first two games of the season, both of which Lynch was healthy for, Rawls only had a combined two rushing attempts, with both coming in Week One against the St. Louis Rams. In Week Two against the Green Bay Packers, Rawls did not have a single rushing attempt. Those numbers help to prove how effective Rawls was able to be with limited opportunities; he was even able to outperform his rookie counterparts who were given far more of a chance to shine.
While the rushing numbers may have been very solid, the one question that remains about Rawls is his durability. In the Seahawks’ Week 14 win against the Baltimore Ravens, Rawls suffered a fractured ankle on the opening drive that forced him to be out for the rest of the season, including the playoffs.
That ankle injury is part of a long injury history Rawls has dating back to his days at the University of Michigan, as he dealt with injuries throughout his collegiate career.
With this long injury history, there is one question that must be asked. Is Rawls truly bound for stardom?
When it comes down to it, the answer is an emphatic yes. All injuries aside, Rawls has the ability to be a truly special player in the NFL, and his superb rushing abilities should carry him to a breakout sophomore season.
Down the road, Rawls has the potential to be an Arian Foster type of player; a running back that can use both his shiftiness and strength to physically outmatch defenders in both the rushing game and the passing game.
In 2016, the rest of the NFL must be on watch for the rise of Thomas Rawls.