In real football, running backs are a dime a dozen. Of course, there is a wide range of abilities in that dozen, but you have a pretty good chance of finding a capable player or three in that group, and plenty of teams are now running their franchises with that blueprint. Grab a couple early down backs and a couple third-down/receiving backs, and you can get through a season with 16 games of quality backfield play, compared to those teams that invest heavily in one all-purpose back. And if your player personnel division is good, the "next man up" theory can work out. This is what is currently happening in Seattle, as Marshawn Lynch is most likely retiring/being cut and the Seahawks don't look like they'll miss a beat.
Lynch was the heart and soul of this Seattle team over the last few seasons, but his body is giving out and Thomas Rawls just put up numbers, in relief of Lynch, that would make any team salivate, especially considering Rawls was an undrafted free agent rookie. Rawls is good, but the situation he landed in was one of the best of any running back in the league in 2015. Seattle's defense continued to dominate; Russell Wilson continued to run the football, giving whomever the running back is, more lanes to run through; and the passing game kept defenses from stacking the box. Add all that together, and Rawls rushed for a league leading 5.65 yards per carry as he totaled 906 total yards and five touchdowns.
Rawls' running style is reminiscent of Lynch's, as both backs are strong between the tackles and can run through, and over, defenders. Thomas averaged 2.68 yards after contact, which led the league and emulated Lynch's abilities and determination. This smooth transition was key for Seattle with Lynch injured much of the 2015 season. Lynch's absence also pushed the team to rely more on Russell Wilson, who lit the NFL up in the second half of last year. Wilson should be the focus of this offense as it moves away from Lynch, but that doesn't hurt Rawls' upside in my estimation. Look at someone like DeAngelo Williams last season. He was on a team that could dominate through the air, which gave him plenty of room to ramble when defenses couldn't key on him.
In fantasy football, opportunity is often the main ingredient when picking players, and opportunity on great teams like Seattle, is even better. Rawls was able to get plenty of playing time in last season, which should help him as he takes over the lead role in 2016. He broke his ankle late in the season, but appears likely to be ready for training camp and more than likely slotted is as the lead back.
His competition at the moment is Christine Michael, whom the Seahawks re-signed after Rawls went down with his ankle injury. Michael carried 39 times for 192 yards in the three regular-season games following Rawls' injury and looks to have won another shot with the team next season. But Michael is not the sledgehammer Seattle wants to break down opposing defenses. Rawls is that hammer, and proved without a doubt he's up to the task.
I currently have Rawls ranked as the seventh-best fantasy running back for next season, but see that second tier as somewhat fluid after Le'Veon Bell and Todd Gurley. And as teams continue to spread out running back touches based on game-plan and personnel, backs who are assured touches continue to gain in value, but also continue to be risky, as they are more susceptible to injury and/or another back stealing playing time. So hitting on a running back in fantasy is key to winning, but it also pushes you toward taking safer wide receivers early in drafts. Will Rawls go to high in drafts next season? Possibly, but with what I believe will be a very wide receiver-centric first round ADP in 2016, there is still a decent chance Rawls falls in your drafts to a manageable pick.