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Player Spotlight: Marshawn Lynch

A detailed look at Marshawn Lynch's fantasy prospects for 2017 and beyond.

POSITIVES

  • A year off may have been the best medicine for Lynch’s mind and body.
  • Lynch is motivated to play hard for his city of Oakland.
  • He is inserted into a productive offense that will be in the red zone often.

NEGATIVES

  • Sitting out for a year and returning to the NFL to produce is largely unprecedented.
  • Old injuries flaring up is still a concern.
  • Lynch will cede some carries to backups Jalen Richard, DeAndre Washington, and Elijah Hood.

BEAST MODE COMES BACK

In April of this year, fantasy owners perked up when they heard the first rumblings that Marshawn Lynch might make his return to the NFL. Largely hampered by injury in 2015, Marshawn literally hung up his cleats and took a year off of football to travel, do charity work, open a new store, and promote his alma mater. Just over a year later, Lynch decided he would like to return to the NFL. This time, he wanted to play for his hometown Raiders, so Seattle and Oakland executed a trade to give Lynch his wish.

LYNCH LIVING LARGE

His year-long sabbatical from the game could be just what Lynch needed. As has been echoed by many players and coaches, NFL life is grueling. Practices, film study, press conferences, and community engagements year in and year out can leave even the most energetic personalities feeling drained. Add to that the fact that Lynch suffered a calf strain, a hamstring pull, and a sports hernia in 2015, leading to one of the worst statistical seasons he had experienced in years. Time off to heal the body and mind does wonders for all of us and Lynch seems to be responding well to his vacation from the game. By all accounts, Lynch is in great shape and looking the part in training camp practices, showing off the nifty footwork and speed that are hallmarks of his game. Lynch is playing for a city that he loves deeply, a city that will lose its team to Las Vegas in the next two years. This will provide extra motivation for a player that already has shown heart and grit in how he approaches the game of football. This fits with what Head Coach Jack Del Rio said of Lynch when he joined the team: "Authentic passion is what I see. He is a homegrown guy. He's extremely excited about joining this football team, being part of the Raider Nation, and we're excited to have him.”

Lynch’s landing spot is one of the best for which fantasy owners could have hoped. The Raiders offense sparked last year, placing seventh in points per game, 13th in pass yards per game, and sixth in rush yards per game. One metric in which the Raiders lagged was drive success rate, a metric that Football Outsiders uses to track percentage of down series that result in a first down or touchdown. In that category, Oakland ranked 18th in the league. Behind one of the better offensive lines in football and not facing stacked boxes due to its talented duo of receivers, Lynch should have clean running lanes. He will be a big part of the plan to improve drive success by grinding out first downs and will be heavily involved in goal line work. 

‘DIS MAH SON’ DONE?

To say there is no risk in trusting in Lynch would be misleading. The test cases for runners who have left the game and then returned late in their career to produce are almost nonexistent. Ricky Williams is the closest comparison with a successful ending to his story. Williams departed after the 2003 season, returned in 2005, but missed the 2006 season due to a marijuana suspension. In 2009, at age 32, Williams had a resurgent season. Ronnie Brown succumbed to injury, leaving Williams as the primary runner. He amassed 1,121 yards on the ground and 264 yards in the passing game. One has to hope that Lynch, like Williams, can be an outlier in this regard.

Lynch aggravating old injuries is also a worry fantasy owners must confront. While injuries are impossible to predict, certain injuries can have flare-ups. Lynch had compressed cartilage in his back that caused spasms at certain points in his career. Owners may remember the game in 2011 in which Lynch was a last-second scratch due to such a flare-up. Being out of football a year may have taken some of the strain off, but for a chronic condition like this, a season of hard hits and rough landings could bring this issue to the surface again.

It should also be noted that Lynch is unlikely to be the 300-carry player that he was at times in Seattle. The Raiders have young and talented backs in Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. They’ll be mixed in to keep Lynch fresh. Rookie Elijah Hood, the rookie runner and only other back on the roster close to Lynch in size, should also get some work as the team prepares for the future when they’ll be without Lynch. Without this elite volume, it will be imperative that the Raiders offense puts Lynch in good positions for him to deliver statistically with the touches he does command.

FINAL THOUGHTS

In point per reception (PPR) redraft leagues, it’s likely that Lynch will deliver a top fifteen finish and be well worth his current average draft position. All of our Footballguys projectors predict no less than nine total touchdowns and over 1,000 total yards. There’s certainly injury risk with Lynch, but that has already been priced in.

In dynasty formats, Lynch makes a fine bridge player for squads in need of cost effective production. You can purchase him in most places for a future second-round pick, and if his health holds up, you are likely to get a very productive season out of Lynch. If you are a rebuilding team, it makes sense to package Lynch with something else to try and move up into the first round of the 2018 rookie draft. Not only will getting Lynch off your roster help increase the value of your own rookie picks, it will also give you value insulated capital to work with as you go through the rebuilding process.

2017 PROJECTIONS

BOB HENRY’S PROJECTIONS

G RYD Y/R TD REC YD Y/R TD FPT
14 910 4.14 10 30 220 7.33 1 209.00

DAVID DODDS’ PROJECTIONS

G RYD Y/R TD REC YD Y/R TD FPT
15 845 4.12 8 29 212 7.31 1 188.70

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Ryan Fowler of Fox Sports feels that Lynch is going to have a good year:

First, Lynch is going to be the RB-1 workhorse with fresher and, relatively, healthier legs than Adrian's. With running back committees peppered around the league, splintering touches and targets, Lynch can lock up fantasy RB-2 status in 2017 with a high ceiling should he play in all 16 games.”

John Paulsen of 4For4 Fantasy Football predicts missed time for Lynch:

Prospective Lynch owners should expect two to four missed games when putting together their teams. Age 31 running backs tend to miss an extra game when compared to their more youthful counterparts and Lynch’s injury struggles in 2015 aren’t particularly encouraging. But when he plays, he should carry the load (14-16 carries per game, a bit more than what Latavius Murray saw in his 13 relatively healthy games). Double-digit touchdowns are a distinct possibility, given the quality of Oakland’s offense and Lynch’s ability to punch it into the end zone.

Dynasty League Football writer Ryan McDowell believes it’s time to cash out on Lynch in dynasty formats:

Much like Gillislee, little has changed over the past month for the Lynch, the presumed Raiders starting back. His continued rise in dynasty value is simply due to more and more fantasy players coming around to the idea that he can have a productive 2017 campaign after a year away from the game. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, and will depend greatly on Lynch’s ability to stay on the field. Also like Gillislee, Lynch has now climbed into the top 100 players, making drafting him a riskier proposition. As the hype continues to grow in the seasonal fantasy community, expect that to impact Lynch’s value in long-term leagues as well, making him another sell-high option.

Jason Lisk of the Big Lead maintains that Lynch is being overrated:

Lynch’s path to success is probably as a TD vulture in the Jerome Bettis at the end of his career mold. But it’s a high price to pay right now to hope for Beast Mode from years ago.