Thomas Rawls

During the Seahawks' Week 3 game against the Bears, a variety of injuries slowed Marshawn Lynch, who had just five carries and didn't play in the second half.

In place of their offensive catalyst, the Seahawks inserted running back Thomas Rawls, who told Lynch, "I'm going to hold it down for you."

Rawls not only held down the fort against the Bears and the following week against the Bengals, he may also serve as Lynch's eventual replacement in Seattle.

Against Cincinnati in Week 5, Rawls imitated Lynch with his own Beast Mode touchdown, taking an inside handoff and dashing to the left while breaking two tackles and outrunning three defenders en route to a 69-yard, second-quarter touchdown.

Thomas Rawls

It was part of a 23-carry, 169-yard performance, the most rush yards in a single game by a Seahawk since Shaun Alexander, despite playing behind an offensive line that has struggled to open holes or pass protect.

"Rawls was lights out," Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said. "He played physical. He ran the ball extremely well."

The rookie runner has a tattoo on his left bicep that reads: bête noire. The literal translation of the French phrase is "black beast." And Rawls, 22, may take the place of the Seahawks' original beastly running back sooner rather than later.


Lynch, a mercurial personality and one of the league's most powerful runners, is in the midst of a three-year contract with the Seahawks. Next year when he's 30, an age when NFL running backs typically decline, he reportedly would have just a $5 million dead-money value.

In March 2017, he has a $3 million roster bonus due, meaning the Seahawks could release him before that date and be on the hook for just $2.5 million.

And Lynch, who nearly held out last season, may not even be with the team that long.

Thomas Rawls

Slowed by injuries this year, he is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, and this past offseason, retirement rumors swirled around the running back with the punishing style.

Lynch is a special back, but the Seahawks thought enough of Rawls that they traded backup running back Christine Michael, their second-round pick in 2013, to the Cowboys and released Robert Turbin before the season. They did add Fred Jackson, Lynch's former teammate and friend from his Buffalo Bills days.

"I'm like a sponge. I'm trying to soak up everything from them," Rawls said. "I'm a rookie coming into this league and I look up to guys like Marshawn and Fred."

Rawls is not just a rookie but also an undrafted one.

How did "Rawls Royce," a player talented enough to have two 100-yard rushing games in his first three starts go undrafted?


Red flags were raised among NFL scouts because Rawls couldn't climb the depth chart at Michigan, enjoyed just one year of success in college football -- which came against Mid-American Conference competition -- and had a series of off-the-field issues.

Thomas Rawls

A Flint, Michigan, native, Rawls played his first three years at Michigan. As a true freshman in 2011, he carried 13 times for 79 yards. But he only started one game in the next two years, totaling just 333 yards on 73 attempts with five touchdowns -- though he averaged 4.6 yards per carry -- during his 20-game Michigan career.

Looking for more playing time and having graduated from Michigan in three and a half years with a bachelor's degree in communications, Rawls transferred to Central Michigan and was eligible to play immediately.

But in April 2014, Rawls and two other men were charged with stealing a purse from a 62-year-old woman at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, at 3 a.m. and using her credit card to pay for $33.77 in sub sandwiches and gasoline.

Rawls pleaded guilty to attempted larceny from a building (a misdemeanor) in exchange for the felony charges of stealing and possessing stolen credit cards being dropped.

Central Michigan suspended him the first two games of the 2014 season, but he still ran for 1,013 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

Thomas Rawls

"The way he ran today was exactly the way we had seen him in college," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll after Seattle's 26-0 victory against Chicago. "Very aggressive, very downhill, really stomping those feet."

In addition to the stolen credit card fiasco in college, he was academically ineligible for the Bahamas Bowl against Western Kentucky on Christmas Eve.

If not for the character questions, Rawls likely would've been a mid-round pick. And the Seahawks are known for taking chances -- 2015 second-round pick Frank Clark, a fellow Michigan product, was kicked off his team his senior season -- on talented players with baggage.

And the talented downhill runner averaging 5.7 yards per carry is a bulldozer of a back who seeks contact and is difficult to bring down.

"He goes hard every time," Wilson said. "He's got a lot of grit to him."

A grinder like Lynch, the 5-9, 215-pound Rawls has the same listed weight as Lynch but is two inches shorter. Neither has blazing speed -- Rawls ran the 40 in 4.54 seconds -- but the five-time Pro Bowler and his potential successor run with a violent style.

"I love the physicality of the sport," Rawls said. "I mean, you've got to be a tough-nosed, hard runner, especially in this backfield here in Seattle because that's one thing we pride ourselves on."

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-- Follow Jeff Fedotin on Twitter @JFedotin.