Despite a brief dalliance with Devonta Freeman, Carlos Hyde became the latest addition to the Seattle Seahawks backfield on Friday. Was Hyde the right running back for the Seahawks, or will they regret failing to land Freeman?
Although Seattle racked up 2,700 rushing yards in 2019, by the end of last year the Seahawks backfield was a mess. With injuries to Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, and C.J. Prosise, the roster more closely resembled the University of Washington Medical Center emergency room than the Seahawks running back room.
Marshawn Lynch made a return to Seattle late last year and general manager John Schneider hasn’t ruled out a return in 2020 for the Seahawks legend.
However, the Seahawks backfield remained devoid of veteran leadership ahead of training camp. Before Friday, the Seahawks running back room consisted of three rookies, second-year back Travis Homer, plus Carson and Penny.
With the latter two both recovering from injury, and with Penny looking doubtful to be ready for the start of the season, the Seahawks swooped to add another piece to the backfield.
After talks with Freeman collapsed, Hyde signed a one-year deal worth $4 million. The Seahawks had offered the same deal to the former Atlanta Falcons running back, but Freeman seems happy to sit for a season in order to negotiate a deal that he feels fits his worth.
The Seahawks looked destined to sign Freeman for the longest time, but does Hyde represent the better option?
Using OSM to show Hyde’s value to the Seahawks backfield
Using a combination of Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM) and NFL Next Gen Stats we can show that although it is a close-fought battle, Hyde is the better option for the Seahawks backfield heading into 2020.
OSM helps us to break through the usual barometers for success on the football field to see how much a play contributes individually to a team’s offensive results. For the running back position, that barometer would be rushing yards and touchdowns. However, having high numbers of either doesn’t tell the full story of a single player’s production.
Hyde and Freeman had similar overall OSM grades for the 2019 season. Hyde was our 29th ranked running back with a grade of 13.05 with Freeman coming in just behind him with a grade of 12.50 as our RB30. Both players were below the average running back overall grade of 14.39.
Although their grades were extremely close, there was a large disparity between their production in 2019. Hyde secured his first 1,000-yard season on a career-high 245 carries. Freeman struggled to 656 yards and a career-low 3.6 yards per carry.
Hyde was more consistent throughout the season whereas Freeman had multiple games where his OSM grade was below 10, indicating that his performance was detrimental to the overall success of the Falcons offense.
The NFL is a league of recency bias. From a rushing yards and OSM perspective the 2019 season shows that Hyde is the better option for the Seahawks backfield than Freeman. What does a broader look show us?
The decline of Devonta Freeman
We can use Next Gen Stats and OSM going back to the 2016 season to paint a bigger picture.
Freeman put up 1,079 rushing yards in 2016, at 4.8 yards per carry, for 11 touchdowns in 2016. His OSM grade that year was 19.77 making him our RB8 and scoring well above the league average of 15.64. His yards per carry saw him ranked 11th out of 53 qualifying running backs.
Since then, Freeman has shown a decline in every season. He lost a season to injury in 2018 but his decline had already begun in 2017. His OSM grade slipped to 16.13, below the league average and his yards per carry fell to 4.4, ranking him 11th out of 50. This trend continued in 2019 where his 3.6 YPC left him ranked 46th out of 48 running backs.
The same decline is seen in his running back efficiency. Efficiency is measured by how many yards a player travels to gain a yard on the field. Freeman has never been the most efficient back in the NFL but has dropped from 4.05 yards to 4.59 yards between 2016 and 2019. Last season, he was the least efficient running back in the NFL.
By contrast, Hyde ranked 10th in running back efficiency in 2019, higher than in 2016 when his 3.84 yards saw him ranked 13th. His yards per carry of 4.4 was the second-highest of his career, with a high of 4.6 in 2016. Like Freeman, he too had shown year on year decline since 2016 in both metrics, and in 2018 he had ranked 50th out of 55 in running back efficiency.
Unlike Freeman, Hyde’s OSM grade had been below the league average in 2016 at 12.55. In 2017 and 2018, however, he was above the league average. Hyde ranked as our RB15 in 2017. Despite a torrid year split between the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018, he still ranked as our RB24 with an OSM grade of 15.30.
Hyde would have led the Seahawks backfield by OSM in both 2018 and 2016. Seattle led the NFL in rushing yards in 2018 but Carson (15.25), Mike Davis (13.20), and Penny (10.35) all received lower OSM grades than Hyde, as did Thomas Rawls (12.46) in 2016.
No one is expecting Hyde to come in and lead the Seahawks backfield, but he represents better value as a rotational piece than Freeman. Despite having the best deep passer in the NFL in Russell Wilson, the Seahawks are a team committed to running the ball under Pete Carroll and as such could well be the perfect fit for Hyde to prove himself on a one-year “prove it” deal.