After months of rumors, Marshawn Lynch was finally traded to the Oakland Raiders yesterday, and signed a two-year, $9 million contract (with an additional $7.5 million available in incentives). What are your first blush thoughts on Lynch’s fantasy prospects next year?
Phil Alexander: This is the most interesting signing of the free agent period for me. On one hand, Lynch is a 31-year-old running back who struggled through injuries and seemed to be in decline when he last took the field in 2015. On the other, it’s hard not to love the situation he’s landed in. Oakland finished top-10 last season in both total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns per game, all of their core offensive players will return, and they’ve added Lynch -- one of the best running backs of his generation. In theory, if we can pencil him in for Latavius Murray’s 2016 workload, I like Lynch’s chances of approaching 1,000 rushing yards and scoring double-digit touchdowns. But given his injury history and the uncertainty surrounding the effects of his year away from the game, it’s a major leap of faith to assume he could hold up for 16 games under the 16.3 touch per game workload Murray handled as a Raider last year.
Chris Kuczynski: The Lynch trade is better for the Raiders as a team than it is for any individual player's fantasy outlook. This will open up the passing game a little more, but it may also encourage the team to run more, so it's a wash from that standpoint.
He should get an equal - if not larger - share of the touches than Murray got last year, but this isn’t a bell cow situation. Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington are too useful to keep off the field and you have to think they want to keep Lynch fresh at his age given his recent injury history (and the fact he’s working back into football shape). I'm hesitantly optimistic, but I don't think he hits the 1,000 yard incentive in his contract. Admittedly, I may still be having flashbacks of watching the shell of Maurice Jones-Drew in a Raiders uniform.
I do think there’s a good chance Lynch can be more successful at the goal line than Murray. Despite scoring 12 rushing touchdowns last year (fifth-most in the league), there have been plenty of times in the past few years I’ve seen Murray fall backwards on a hit in short yardage.
Devin Knotts: I'm more bearish than most on Lynch, which probably means I won't own any of him this year. In the games he played in 2015, he was not overly effective (3.8 yards per attempt), and he only lasted seven games. Richard and Washington will still have significant roles in this offense. I think this deal has more to do with Oakland signing a beloved home town player to keep fans coming to games while the team prepares to leave the city, than it does with improving their running back play.
Joe Bryant: Looks like Jay Glazer agrees with you, Devin. To me, this feels like classic trap game stuff -- for multiple reasons. Mainly, there is an off the charts optimistic bias toward Lynch because he's so beloved. People love the attitude. Valuing Marshawn Lynch to the FF Community in 2017 will be like valuing Brett Favre if your league was based in Wisconsin in 1997. I expect it to be absurd, simply because it's such a fun story. And people so want him to succeed. I'll be pulling for him like the rest of America. But I can't imagine I'll ever be able to draft him at anything close to reasonable value.
Great point, Joe. As always, we have to consider Lynch’s cost relative to his expected production. Assuming the Raiders are now comfortable with their running back depth chart, where do you see Lynch getting drafted this summer? And how high is too high for you?
Jason Wood: I've got Lynch for 215 carries in my pre-draft projections, with a 4.3 yards per carry average. There's a risk he's a bust (as I believe Adrian Peterson will be to anyone drafting him as a fantasy starter), yet Lynch should be relatively healthy and refreshed. And as Phil mentioned, he gets to run behind an excellent offensive line on a team committed to the ground game.
Last year, Oakland rushed 434 times for 1,922 yards (4.4 YPC) and 17 touchdowns with Murray as the lead dog and Washington, Richard, Taiwan Jones, and Jamize Olawale as backups. Lynch couldn’t have stepped into a better situation.
There’s an upward bias to my initial projections. I'm reluctant to give Lynch a full workload given his age and his time away from the game. Either way, 925 yards rushing with 8 rushing touchdowns, to go along with 245 receiving yards puts him RB15 in standard and RB17 in PPR right now.
Phil Alexander: If Lynch can be at least as good as Murray was last year, you'd be getting the RB13 on a per game basis, and RB1 numbers in half his starts. Last summer, the top-15 running backs were typically off the board before the end of the third, which feels about right for Lynch. But as Joe alluded to, Lynch is fun. Everyone loves him. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him picked in the second. Would I do it? Probably not. Would I ridicule someone else for doing it? Probably not.
Jason Wood: Provided the Raiders don't draft a stud running back, he'll normalize into the 3rd/4th round. I wouldn't take him higher than that without a blazingly strong preseason.
Justin Bonnema: Mid-third would be a nice price for folks that go WR-WR in the first two rounds. But I fear he'll climb into the second by August.
Will Grant: Phil and Clayton are both correct - by August, Lynch will be a 2nd round pick in most redraft leagues, especially if the Raiders pass on a running back in the draft. All the indicators for an overdraft are there - change of teams, popular player people want to see succeed, and a media buzz to keep it 'top of mind'. The press will be all over Lynch in training camp, which is sure to drive up his draft stock. I believe the 3rd round valuation is correct, making Lynch an early candidate for our overvalued article this summer.
The other thing to consider is Washington and Richard both averaged well over 5 yards per carry in the limited action they saw last season. There's no need for the Raiders to give Lynch more than 20 touches per game during the regular season. Oakland is fresh off the 'Great season, first round playoff exit' due to injuries and the smart choice would be for them to limit Lynch's activity during the regular season and turn him loose in the playoffs when it counts.
Jason Wood: To be clear to Will and others who anticipate significant roles for Richard and Washington, I only have Lynch with 215 carries, so plenty of work left for those guys. Let's not forget, today's running back baseline is a sad state of affairs. Lynch getting 900+ rushing yards and 6-8 touchdowns, to go along with 25-30 receptions, makes him a top-20 fantasy back.
John Lee: I would agree that Lynch was not overly effective in 2015, but let's not forget how dreadful the Seahawks' offensive line was that season. They ranked in the bottom five of the league in both pass and run blocking, which hampered productivity from the rushing game all season. In the six games Lynch played (and finished), Seattle only won one convincingly, a 20-3 win over San Francisco in Week 7, where Lynch put together a 27/122/1 stat line. In every other game, Lynch was hampered by a poor offensive line and a negative gamescript.
Phil Alexander: Agreed, John. The impact of a great offensive line on a runner who earned his reputation breaking tackles can’t be overstated. This tweet from PFF’s Pat Thorman was one of my favorite Lynch nuggets from yesterday:
Marshawn Lynch's team run block grade rank— Pat Thorman (@Pat_Thorman) April 26, 2017
'12: 9 (5.0 YPC)
OAK '16: 5th
Daniel Simpkins: Just to throw in some Dynasty perspective, I picked Lynch up in an experts league and traded him for an early 3rd and 4th round pick when the first whisperings of his return began. I regret not holding a little longer, but I was afraid he would come out and say the rumors were untrue and then I would get nothing. I can see people paying an early second for him in Dynasty now, but I'm valuing him more around the mid-second if you are a contender and want to use him as a bridge player.
Chris Kuczynski: I’m in a dynasty league where everyone gets $100 blind bid in the preseason (resets Week 1) and have to decide what to wager on Lynch. My plan is to talk him up so someone goes above $50 and I have less competition for any rookies not taken in our two round draft.
Anyone concerned about the dreaded Running Back "Age Cliff"?
Bruce Hammond: For sure. Running backs don't generally decline gracefully, they fall off a cliff. Who knows how the year off, plus the truncated 2015 season have left Lynch. It's great to remember his Beast Mode days, but at his age, recent inactivity, and injury risk are huge red flags. There could be a lot of pomp and circumstance about his return with little to show for it.
A.E. Harstad: I’ve written extensively on age cliffs. Here's my initial article and a follow-up using historical data to calculate mortality tables for running backs. I’m looking forward to updating these numbers, and forming an opinion on what it means for Lynch in 2017. Look for a new article on this topic from me this preseason.
While historical comps can be fraught-- especially with outliers like this-- I want to point out that both Tiki Barber (2011) and Ricky Williams (2008-2009) are kind of spectacular comps for Lynch right now, both in terms of talent and situation.
2011 Barber was 36 and had been away for five years, so that part isn't too comparable. But he was one of the greatest "old" running backs in history before he retired. When he tried coming back in 2011, Barber couldn't play at all, confirming running backs are perfectly capable of "losing it" even without the wear and tear. 2008 Williams (31-years-old) was a timeshare back and desperation flex, but 2009 Williams was a top-12 fantasy back at the age of 32. There’s a huge range of possible outcomes with Lynch, and they’re all on the table, in my opinion. I’m looking forward to analyzing this situation further and sharing it with our subscribers in the coming weeks.
Phil Alexander: More so than any arbitrary number, it’s Lynch’s specific injury history that worries me. This excerpt is from a 2015 NFL.com article:
Lynch has compressed cartilage in his back, a condition that will not heal and can get worse as a result of Lynch's punishing running style.
Lynch's back caused him considerable problems this season. It explains why he made the unusual decision to remain on the sideline while his teammates went to the locker room during halftime of Seattle's loss to the Chiefs in November. The game was played in freezing temperatures and Lynch feared his back would tighten up to the extent that he wouldn't be able to play if he went into the locker room.
It was the type of scene that recalled memories of late-period Larry Bird, laid out on the floor in front of the Celtics bench in an effort to keep his troublesome back from locking up. Back injuries can quickly derail careers, and Lynch may be tempted to get out before an on-the-field nuisance becomes a lifelong burden.