Care to guess how many players have carried the ball at least 30 times in a season over the Seattle Seahawks’ last five years? That would be nine. That doesn’t even include guys like C.J. Prosise or Travis Homer, guys who caught a healthy number of balls but just missed the rushing threshold. The Seahawks are perennially in the top half of the league in total rush attempts and are one of the last preeminent teams that like to establish it. 

The Seahawks have also ranked top ten in the league in rushing yards per attempt in each of the last five seasons. Why do these things matter? Because not only do the Seahawks love to run the ball under head coach Pete Carroll, but they have an organizational scheme that sets up their rushers for success. 

In 2023, as they attempt to protect Geno Smith and keep him in the pocket to protect their investment (he rushed almost 70 times in 2022), Seattle drafted Zach Charbonnet out of UCLA with their second-round pick. And while this may be one of those “good for real life football” moves, it creates a Fisherman’s Wharf-sized headache for fantasy managers in the backfield. 

Will incumbent Kenneth Walker or Charbonnet be the running back to draft this year? Who should win the starting job, and does it matter? Let’s dive into each and see who provides the best value in the early draft season. 

Kenneth Walker Was the Man, With One Glaring Problem

In case Walker’s blazing hot finish to the season burned away the memory of his first five weeks of 2022, let me enlighten you. Rashaad Penny opened the season as the starter for Seattle after Walker was drafted with a second-round pick in 2022. Penny was the starter and the workhorse through five games when he went down with injury. After that, it was the Kenneth Walker show, and he certainly delivered. 

Walker ended his rookie year with 1,050 rushing yards on 228 attempts plus nine rushing touchdowns. He made a habit of breaking gigantic plays for touchdowns, much like this 74-yard Marshawn Lynchian rumble for a score. 

With those gaudy numbers, it is easy to forget that Walker was basically a zero in his first five games. He missed the first game of the season due to injury and had just 15 total rush attempts through Week 4. But in Week 6 through the end of the season (11 games), he rushed for 904 yards, eight scores, and 4.42 yards per carry. 

Walker also chipped in 35 targets, 27 receptions, and 165 receiving yards but was frequently removed during clear passing downs in favor of DeeJay Dallas or Travis Homer. And that was his primary problem for fantasy. Of his 35 targets on the year, 24 came by Week 10. Just 11 targets over the final seven games of the season made him a sketchy, yardage-dependent play in any PPR format. 

Those flaws set up what is likely to be the clear role for Walker this year. We will see him on first downs. We will see him on second down. It’s likely we will see him in short yardage. And we will see him at the goal line. But we are not likely to see him much in the passing game. That’s where the new rookie out of UCLA comes in.

Zach Charbonnet Has the Ability to be a Three-Down Back

We know from decades of draft history that NFL teams do not draft a running back in the second round with no intention of using him. Those early picks are too valuable to spend in developmental stages, and they need to be ready from day one. For Charbonnet, that should not be a problem. He wasn’t one of these workout or Combine darlings who blows you away with his measurables or his ungodly athletic ability. 

What he did show, however, is that no matter what scheme he is in, you can find a productive role for him. Charbonnet was a Michigan Wolverine for the first two years of his college career. In that time, he scored 12 touchdowns in 18 career games as a true freshman and sophomore. But Michigan does not involve their running backs in the passing game. Charbonnet knew that he had that skill in his bag of tricks, so he transferred to UCLA to finish school. During those two years, he played 22 games, rushed for just shy of 2,500 yards, caught 61 balls, and scored 27 total touchdowns. Including this absolutely beautiful series of events.

Charbonnet can be the wrecking ball. He can be the change-0f-pace. He can be the receiving back. And he can be a VERY attractive backup running back option. But with the way Pete Carroll likes to handle his backfield, I expect something like a 65-35 rushing share split in favor of Walker, with Charbonnet taking 75% of the running back targets. 

If Walker were to get hurt, Charbonnet’s ability, combined with this offensive system, would catapult him into immediate top-10 running back status. 

Is Walker or Charbonnet the Better Draft Pick Right Now?

In very early NFBC fantasy drafts, the average draft positions for Walker and Charbonnet are wildly different. Walker is currently being drafted as RB11 with an ADP around pick 28. Charbonnet is currently going as RB36 with an ADP of 111. At those prices, it’s hard not to love Charbonnet in any kind of point-per-reception format. In those formats, it’s also hard to pass up on guys like Najee Harris, Tony Pollard, and even Breece Hall (assuming good camp reports). 

Draft one of those guys in the late second or early third and then grab Charbonnet in the 10th or 11th, and you might be looking at a weekly flex player if Carroll decides to go more 50-50 split among the running backs as he did with Rashaad Penny and Alex Collins in 2021. 

But no matter what happens, we know this is going to be one of the best run environments in the league for the sixth year in a row. The right answer to the Walker/Charbonnet question might actually be “both!” DeeJay Dallas and Kenny McIntosh are also around because Pete Carroll wants to make our fantasy lives miserable. But it’s clear that Seattle has found their two running backs of the future, and now we just wait to see how Carroll will deploy them.