The lists continue. And why not? There isn’t much else Seahawks-related stuff to do right now. I mean, we could speculate endlessly on what Marshawn Lynch meant with his latest set of cryptic comments, but I’d prefer not to do that. I’m starting to think Lynch is an Andy Kaufman-esque madman, and he’s playing a never-ending prank on football fans everywhere that exists only in his own head. Well, if that’s the case, I’m not falling for it anymore. Say or don’t say whatever you want Beast Mode, announce your retirement or don’t. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m onto you.
But since he’s in the news and I’m doing a bunch of Seattle-centric lists, it only makes sense to do the top ten running backs in Seahawks history.
10. Mack Strong, 1994-2007
Mack Carlington Strong: If I was only going by name, he would be number one on the list. In his 14-year career, spent entirely with the Seahawks (the second longest in franchise history), Strong was used almost exclusively as a blocking back. In fact, you can argue he had so few carries in his career (never more than 40 in a season), that he doesn’t even qualify as a “running back”. But I put him on this list because he was a really good fullback — a two-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro selection in 2005 — and because I couldn’t stomach putting Julius Jones on it. Nothing against Mr. Jones personally, it’s just that it was abysmal watching the ‘Hawks those years when he was the focal point of the offense.
(The only Mack Strong highlight I could find.)
9. Maurice Morris, 2002-2008
Are we sure Maurice Morris and Robert Turbin aren’t the same person? They have similar builds and styles and both began their careers by being the sub for a superstar running back. If Marshawn Lynch doesn’t return to the team this year, and Turbin takes over as the starter and does a fair to middling job in his place before going to the Detroit Lions, then things will really get eerie.
Morris wasn’t a fantastic runner, but he was a decent enough “bridge” back — he got most his carriers in the years between the first two Seattle Super Bowls and wasn’t a total disaster. Also, he once went for $73 in a free agent auction in my fantasy league. A team’s budget for the entire season is $100. Yes, that really happened.
8. Dan Doornink, 1979-1985
“Dr. Dan” was both the best white running back and the greatest number two running back in franchise history. He never led the team in rushing, but he ranks tenth in career yardage. Doornink was also a reliable target through the air, and he had a reputation for being clutch, which is what bumped him ahead of Morris on this list. He was nicknamed “Mr. Third Down” for his propensity to pick up crucial first downs, and his best ever performance came in the only Seattle playoff win in the two-plus decades from 1983 to 2005.
After retiring from football, Doornink became an M.D. in Yakima. This ranks him a very distance second in the “Best NFL Running Back Who Later Studied Medicine” category.
7. Sherman Smith, 1976-1982
He’s the team’s current running back coach, and he was also the first ever featured back in a Seahawks offense. As a rookie in Seattle’s inaugural season, Sherman Smith led the team in rushing with 537 yards. That’s not a huge total, but Smith did it on just 119 attempts (4.5 Y/A), and he added another 384 yards through the air. He was quietly effective, not just for the year, but for the next half decade. Although he never topped 805 yards in a season, during his peak, Smith was one of the better running backs in the league as evidenced by his three straight seasons (1977-1979) with double digit approximate value totals. The only knock against “The Tank” (get it?) is that he didn’t do it long enough. A knee injury sidelined Smith for most of the 1980 season, and contrary to the optimism he expresses in this 1981 article from the Ellensburg Daily Record, he never had another good season.
6. Ricky Watters, 1998-2001
Interesting tidbit about Ricky Watters: He was the first NFLer to rush for 1,000 yards in a season with three different teams. (Willis McGahee also did it after Watters.) As a rookie with the 49ers in 1992, he went for 1,003 (then had one of the all-time great Super Bowl performances two years later), and then with the Eagles he topped the 1,000-yard mark three times, including a career high 1,411 in 1996, when he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (1,855 yards). But surprisingly, Watters put up more total yards with the Seahawks than he did with either of his previous two teams.
Or maybe this isn’t surprising if you remember that Watters was really, really good for the ‘Hawks for a solid three years from 1998 through 2000. He was the best player on the offense each season during that stretch, never running for fewer than 1,200 yards and never compiling fewer than 1,550 yards from scrimmage. Really, the only knock on Watters is that he didn’t have any postseason success in Seattle. Oh, and also there was the “For who? For what?” quote, but that was in Philly.
5. John L. Williams, 1986-1993
John L. Williams was an old-school fullback in that he actually got to touch the ball. Today fullbacks are either plodding white guys who seemingly only get on the field so that the crowd can call out their name in unison (“K-u-u-u-u-h-n”), or they are dudes who might play fullback one play and then left guard the next. They are seldom ball handlers. But 25 years ago, fullbacks were still a focal point of the offense. In fact, in the case of John L. Williams, he was the focal point of the offense for several years.
From 1988 to 1991, Williams led the ‘Hawks in yards from scrimmage each season. Although he did get a fair amount of carries (10 or so a game), he mainly contributed as a pass catcher out of the backfield. His 471 receptions with the Seahawks is the third most in franchise history, and his 546 total receptions ranks tenth all-time among running backs. But Williams also fulfilled the traditional fullback role, as he was an excellent blocker, as well. Basically, he was just an all around stud (“Big John L. Studd?”), but don’t take my word for it; believe the unidentified narrator in the clip below.
4. Chris Warren, 1990-1997
I really wanted to put the extremely underrated Chris Warren ahead of Curt Warner, but I couldn’t quite justify it. The general perception is that Warner was the far superior Seattle running back with the initials C.W. (in Pro Football Reference’s crowd-sourced Elo ratings, for instance, at the time I write this, Warner rates as the 171st best offensive player ever, Warren is just the 451st), but the truth is they were actually very, very close. I would say Warner was a bit better (which is why he’s ahead of Warren on this list) — but it’s just that: a bit better. Chris Warren was really good.
The problem is that Warren’s teams were not good. And when a very good player is on a perpetual loser, it tends to obscure his very-goodness. Used almost exclusively as a return man early in his career, Warren took over as the starting halfback in 1992 on a 2-14 team. Over the next three years, he was arguably the best running back in the AFC; he made the Pro Bowl each season, accumulated over 4,000 total rushing yards, and scored 34 touchdowns. His 1994 campaign was particularly impressive, as Warren ran for 1,545 yards and added 323 more through the air, giving him 1,868 yards from scrimmage, the second highest total in Seahawks history. But the ‘Hawks, mired with Rick Mirer at quarterback, didn’t have a single winning season when Warren was the featured back. This is likely the main reason he isn’t held in higher esteem by football fans today.
It also didn’t help that Warren blew up just after the release of Tecmo Super Bowl. When I used to play with the Seahawks on that game, I always wanted to sub Warren in and rack up the yardage within him. But, alas, his avatar was slow and weak, and so I would usually end up repeatedly throwing it to Jeff Chadwick, who was good on that game for some reason.
Anyway, here’s a cool YouTube video of Warren taking it to the house (second clip) in a 1995 Sunday Night Football blowout of the Raiders.
3. Curt Warner, 1983-1989
Did you ever know somebody who likes football, but isn’t a die-hard fan, so they only have a few go-to facts, so they tell you them over and over again, and you don’t say anything because they’re just being friendly and trying to make conversation? That was my dad watching the Seahawks when I was a kid: “Did you know Curt Warner ran the ball 60 yards on his first carry as a Seahawk?” he used to say to me seemingly every game. I did know it — every time but the first time he told me.
The big run to which my dad was referring came in the first game of the 1983 season, which the ‘Hawks lost to Kansas City 13-17. But don’t fret, they got revenge later in the season, beating the Chiefs in a spectacular 51-48 overtime shootout, with Warner having the best game of his career, going for 207 and three scores. Then a month later the rookie was sensational in Seattle’s upset win over the Dolphins in the AFC divisional round.
But in Week 1 of the following year, Warner tore his ACL, missing what, for many years, was the best regular season in franchise history (imagine if the ‘Hawks had had a healthy Warner). Although he made two more Pro Bowls post-injury (’86 and ’87), Warner had a relatively short career (just seven seasons), likely due, at least in part, to the long-term effects of his knee injury. Nevertheless, Warner is a Seahawks Ring of Honor member, and he is the third best running back in franchise history, in my book … or blog, rather.
2. Shaun Alexander, 2000-2007
Because his greatness evaporated so quickly and because it never looked like he was playing hard (“Eric Dickerson Disease”), there is, I think, a tendency to forget just how special a running back Shaun Alexander really was. Sure, he ran behind Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson most his career, but a good offensive line alone cannot explain the numbers Alexander churned out for the five-year stretch between 2001 and 2005. It was one of the most productive half-decades for a running back in NFL history (especially in terms of fantasy production — see the video below). And it culminated with Alexander’s record-breaking MVP year of 2005, which is, in my opinion, the greatest single-season by a Seahawk in franchise history. In fact, if I was only considering the regular season, then I would put Alexander number one on this list. But I’m not only considering the regular season, so number one goes to somebody else …
1. Marshawn Lynch, 2010-2014
And that somebody else is, of course, Marshawn Lynch. He still needs at least two more monster seasons to have a chance to catch Alexander in terms of raw regular-season production. But I put Lynch at the top of the list because of what he’s done in the postseason. It seems to be the bigger the stage, the higher the Beast Mode setting. To wit, in his ten playoff games, Lynch as gone over 130 yards four times, and he’s gone over 100 yards six times. And in three of the four games he didn’t top the century mark, the Seahawks either fell way behind early and had to throw to get back into it (Chicago 2010, Atlanta 2012), or they were so far ahead (Super Bowl XLVIII) that it didn’t really matter what they did on offense for most the game. Really, the Carolina match this year was the only playoff game in which it was close for much the contest and Lynch was shut down. And by “shut down” I mean he averaged 4.2 yards-per-attempt and helped open up the passing game so that Russell Wilson could go nuts.
Of course it’s not just the consistency in the postseason that makes Lynch a living Seahawks legend; it’s also the iconic runs. Quick, name Shaun Alexander’s most impactful run as a Seahawk. Nothing comes immediately to mind, does it? Yet with Lynch, you’ve got this one or this one or this one or this one. And that’s before even mentioning the two huge pass receptions he had in this year’s postseason (0:43 mark here and 0:50 mark here). Beast Mode has already establish the greatest postseason résumé in Seattle playoff history and hopefully he will return next season to try to add to it. Because if he doesn’t — if he does really decide to retire — the lasting memory for too many Seahawks fans will be of the one great postseason run he didn’t get the chance to make.