Over the next few weeks, we'll be bringing you in-depth scouting reports on each of the Jets' free agent signings. We begin today with running back Thomas Rawls.
The 24-year old Rawls is listed as 5'9" and 215 pounds and was undrafted out of Central Michigan in 2015. Rawls spent his first three seasons in Seattle, rushing for 830 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie year but underwhelming over the past two years as he was banged up a lot and averaged just three yards per carry.
Rawls started off his college career at Michigan but eventually decided to transfer at the end of his third year as he couldn't earn much playing time. He had carried the ball just three times, for 12 yards and a touchdown in his junior year.
Rawls' best game at Michigan saw him run for a long touchdown against Illinois as a sophomore. He ended up with 90 yards on nine carries in that game. However, he was unable to build on that as he gained just 68 yards on 32 carries the rest of the way and ended up with 242 yards and four touchdowns.
At the beginning of the 2014 season, Rawls transferred to Central Michigan where he rushed for over a thousand yards and 10 touchdowns in his first six games, which included a couple of 200-yard games. However, he gained just 96 yards in his last three games.
Rawls was signed as an undrafted free agent by Seattle and got plenty of playing time due to Marshawn Lynch being injured. After rushing for over 100 yards in his first start in place of Lynch, Rawls remained as the starter and led all qualifying backs in yards per carry. He exploded for over 200 yards against the 49ers, becoming the first player in NFL history to have over 250 yards from scrimmage and touchdowns both as a runner and a receiver in the same game.
He was on course for a thousand-yard season but missed the last few games after landing on injured reserve. He ended up with 830 yards and four touchdowns and was voted to the all-rookie team.
The Seahawks had high hopes for Rawls in his second and third seasons but he averaged just three yards per carry and struggled to stay healthy. He did at least score four more touchdowns in 2016, while also setting career highs in receptions (13) and receiving yards (96).
Despite his disappointing 2016 season, Rawls exploded for 161 yards and a touchdown in the wild card game against Detroit. However, he was held to just 34 yards on 11 carries as they were eliminated the next week by Atlanta.
2017 was his worst season to date as he didn't surpass 40 yards in any game and only averaged over four yards per carry once all year.
Let's look in more detail at what Rawls brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Rawls has typically been employed as a conventional back. It's rare for him to motion out wide or into the slot but he is sometimes required to run block on designed quarterback keepers.
Rawls' combine measurables were disappointing although he had a good vertical jump. He was reportedly dealing with a hamstring issue. The numbers indicate that his slow 40-time was perhaps influenced by a really slow start:
At his pro day, he did a much better job of proving his speed, as he ran a 4.46 in the 40. However, he ran the agility drills and fared poorly.
Watching Rawls in his rookie year he looks like a completely different back than he did over the past two seasons. Maybe that's because the injuries he's had since then have slowed him down. However, it's reminscent of the likes of Shonn Greene and Bernard Pierce, two other packs who excelled off the bench in their rookie years, perhaps due largely to being fresher than everyone else. Both Pierce and Greene failed to live up to their rookie year over the next few seasons.
Rawls is a physical runner with a low center of gravity and is capable of carrying a load. He's carried 20 or more times five times in regular season or postseason action. However, he has some good speed and can make sharp cuts.
This was his marquee highlight from his rookie year and the longest run of his career. His breakaway speed, change of direction and ability to run out of a tackle are on display here:
This was his best run in 2017, as he exploits a huge running lane, but does show off the ability to make a defender miss at the second level. Of his other 57 carries, only two others went for 10 yards or more:
In his rookie year, he ran with physicality, trucking this defensive back downfield:
However, his physical running style doesn't always lead to success. He dishes out the punishment here on Josh Norman, but still gets pulled down short of the marker:
Rawls has had modest success on short yardage runs. Three of his eight regular season touchdown runs have come from the one or two yard line. Here's one:
Rawls hasn't put up big receiving numbers in college or the pros. He had just one catch at Michigan, 10 catches for 93 yards at Central Michigan and 31 catches for 266 yards and a touchdown in three years with Seattle. He's never had 100 receiving yards in a season.
Those passes that Rawls has caught have mostly been extensions of the running game with dump-offs or screen passes like this one:
Here was a rare example of him actually running a downfield route and taking advantage of the defense leaving him uncovered:
Rawls' hands are nothing special but he's never had more than a couple of drops in a season.
Rawls has been used in pass protection at times but has given up a few sacks. On this play, he not only lets the pass rusher get around him and off his block, but also gets in the way of the left guard:
As previously noted, Rawls has occasionally had to act as a run blocker for Russell Wilson. He was once penalized for a chop block.
Rawls played on special teams early in his college career with the Wolverines but has not contributed on special teams at the NFL level.
One of the main complaints about Rawls from Seahawks fans is that his vision is poor and he lacks patience. He will make a cut rather than taking what the defense gives him and often lose yardage as a result. Here's a good example of that as, even though the right side of the line got driven back, he still should have been able to get positive yardage up the middle:
When he entered the NFL, scouting reports indicated that Rawls' vision was good. However, it seems he looks to punish defenders and lay the boom or make something out of nothing too often.
His instincts as a blocker can be shaky too, as he sometimes misses an assignment, and he's inexperienced in the passing game generally.
Fumbles have been an issue for Rawls in the past. He's only lost two in his three NFL seasons, but you can see from this play that his ball security can lapse at times:
He was called for a couple of false starts in his first three years.
Despite the fact Rawls was struggling and losing playing time over the past couple of years, coach Pete Carroll praised his attitude and how hard he had been working.
On the field, he can get a bit carried away as he did after making a key first down in the third quarter of a late season game against the Cardinals. Rawls was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after having been judged to have taunted the defensive player he beat on the play. Seattle ultimately lost by two.
Rawls was involved in a controversy in college as he was charged with theft after reportedly being accused of having stolen a woman's purse and using the credit cards. While he apparently served probation and did community service, Rawls later denied stealing the purse but wouldn't elaborate further. He separately had discussed getting in with a bad crowd and claimed to have learned from the experience.
Rawls is a physical runner and isn't especially big, so he was always considered a potential injury risk. He's been banged up a lot over the past few seasons and it has no doubt affected his production.
His issues really began late in that rookie season when he broke his ankle and ended up on injured reserve. He had offseason surgery and began camp in 2016 on the PUP list.
Early on in 2016, he was kicked in the shin and suffered a hairline fracture missing about a month. He later also had issues with a bruised shoulder and then, in 2017, his main problem was a high ankle sprain.
Rawls had also been listed with knee and calf issues in 2015 and, as previously noted, injured his hamstring at the combine. He had also missed some time with injuries with the Chippewas in 2014.
In order for Rawls to be successful with the Jets, he needs to run with a more direct style. The new zone blocking system - which he'll be more than familiar with - requires the backs to be decisive one-cut runners. He'll have to display his physicality and elusiveness if he gets to the second level instead.
Hopefully he should have more confidence in the line to create running lanes for him than he did in Seattle, where they struggled, especially over the past two seasons.
Rawls has a number of former teammates on the roster, including Jermaine Kearse, Joel Stave and Kevin Pierre-Louis.
Rawls probably shouldn't be considered a lock to make the roster, and we shouldn't rule out the team bringing in at least one rookie, but he is exactly the type of low-risk, potential high-reward move that a team in the Jets' situation should be making.
If he can return to his rookie form, then the Jets would have themselves a potential lead back at a bargain price. He could also be effective as part of a platoon.
With Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire being versatile third-down back types, the addition of Rawls along with Isaiah Crowell gives the team a couple of physical runners to carry the load and should give a versatile dimension to a potentially crowded backfield.