High-Variance Players: RB Marshawn Lynch - Footballguys

The Footballguys staff discusses the high side and low side of Marshawn Lynch

When August rolls around, the fantasy football community usually reaches a consensus on most players. Marshawn Lynch isn't one of those players. While he's averaging somewhere around RB34, he has been ranked between 18 and 48 at his position. What are your thoughts on him? Is he underrated or overrated? Or neither?

Daniel Simpkins: I’m fine with Lynch being 34th at his position off the board. Personally, I would place him somewhere in the 23rd-25th range. Though I’m not sure that Gruden’s overall experiment in Oakland will be a success, I do see a willingness to give Marshawn Lynch a lot more work than he got last season. I didn’t see anything to suggest Lynch has lost a step. Between the volume he’ll get and the toolbox he has as a veteran runner who understands the nuances of the position, I’m betting we see a nice swan song season from him.

Jason Wood: I'm toward the bottom of the Lynch rankings, and won't touch him in drafts. He's old. He has to share the backfield with Doug Martin this year. Jon Gruden is the head coach. And most importantly, Greg Olson is the offensive coordinator. I want zero shares of Raiders players this year.

Matt Waldman: I'm at the top. Lynch looked no different upon his return to the NFL than before he left. One of the most difficult things for the numbers guys to do who try to predict the age cliff is to identify which players will hang on longer than the average.

Study his film from last year and you'll see the same burst, power, agility, balance, and vision. Jack Del Rio was reticent to use Lynch to his fullest capacity and earned criticism for it. Listening to Jon Gruden this week, Lynch weighed well over 235 pounds for much of last year and is down to a manageable weight after a year of training and playing in the league.

In contrast to Wood, I want as many shares of Lynch and Martin this year as I can get my hands on because the Raiders have a good offensive line. The Saints have a good offensive line and two good fantasy backs who shared carries last year. The Falcons have a good offensive line and two good fantasy backs to shared carries last year.

The Ravens had two top-24 fantasy backs in PPR last year with a decent offensive line that could have been much better without losing Marshal Yanda for the year. The Bears missed a great opportunity to use Tarik Cohen to his potential but still managed to give both Cohen and Jordan Howard enough volume for them to be top-30 runners.

And to Wood's point but opposite his inference, Jon Gruden is the head coach. Unlike his past teams in Tampa, he has a competent quarterback and won't have to struggle trying to draft one. He's had success bringing in retreads at offensive skill positions.

Last I've checked, the West Coast Offense that Gruden uses--you know, that scheme that has people calling Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay young geniuses--is still the main offense of the NFL. Yes, he criticized RPOs. He has also taken some risks with player acquisition. And, he has alienated that data analyst contingent of the media.

What Gruden wants to do on offense isn't too dated to work. It worked for the Harbaugh brothers, Pete Carroll, and Doug Marrone. In some respects, it worked for the Bills and would have worked better if they had healthy and talented receivers during the Tyrod Taylor era when they were league leaders in rushing.

I'll invest in quality backs with good offensive lines and an experienced and successful offensive mind as a head coach when he's had this caliber of talent.

Will Grant: Lynch and Carlos Hyde are in the same category for me - if I'm looking for a running back and they are at the top of the list, I'm sure there are other players who are ranked lower than them who have a bigger upside. I'd much rather reach a bit for a guy like Kerryon Johnson than to take Lunch as my third or fourth running back and hope he holds up for the season.

Given the choice though, I think I'd take Lynch over Hyde at this point. I'd say 34 is about right for Lynch - maybe a little low.

Chad Parsons: I am avoiding all the Raiders running backs this year. First, the offense could be average-at-best (with plenty of downside). Second, Lynch is at the expiration age for running backs and lacks RB1 upside. I want RB1 upside from the first few running backs I draft (ideally all of them) with the low-ceiling/high-floor profile like Lynch's not all that appealing.

Andy Hicks: That is almost the spot on ranking I have for Lynch. At first glance, Lynch appeared to have a disappointing season in his first year with the Raiders, but the difference between the first half of the season and the second is striking. For the first half of the year, he only had 86 carries for 323 yards at 3.75 yards a carry. Over the last seven games, he had 121 carries for 568 yards at 4.69 yards a rush. Now the addition of Jon Gruden and Doug Martin eats into any confidence that Lynch still has it, but he will be the primary ball carrier to open the season and I would be confident starting him at the beginning of the year. As the year continues, I expect his age to start catching up and Martin to take over. Lynch can definitely be useful this year and although I wouldn’t be ecstatic to have him, he becomes a nice depth option against the right opponent.

Phil Alexander: I'm with Matt on ranking Lynch inside the top-20 running backs for three reasons:

  1. He's still got it. The second half stat line Andy mentioned was good enough to rank Lynch as a top-13 running back in PPR leagues from Weeks 9-17 -- close enough to RB1-upside from a player being drafted in Round 7. PlayerProfiler.com gives Matt's assertion Lynch looked like the same runner he was before his "retirement" some statistical context. They chart a stat called juke rate, which isolates a running back’s elusiveness and tackle-breaking power based on the sum of their broken, missed, and otherwise avoided tackles, divided by their total number of touches (carries + receptions). Lynch led all running backs in this metric last season.
  2. Doug Martin stinks. Beat writers and coaches are gushing over how great Martin has looked practicing without pads. We've been here plenty of times before, and the last time the in-season production matched the preseason hype, Lamar Odom was the top trending search term on Google. Martin has failed to clear 3.0 yards-per-carry in each of the last two seasons. Last year, he was soundly outplayed by -- and subsequently lost his job to -- former undrafted free-agent Peyton Barber. For better or worse, Martin appears locked into the No. 2 role in Oakland, but the probability he plays well enough to siphon more than 6-8 touches per game from Lynch is a low one.
  3. The Raiders offense can bounce back. Fantasy GMs are trying to have it both ways with Jon Gruden. When he says something like, "Amari Cooper reminds me of a young Tim Brown", Gruden is dismissed in the community as the king of hyperbole. But when he makes a comment like, "I'm going to fix football by recapturing its past", we're supposed to take him literally? Gruden is nothing if not a competent offensive mind and the Raiders have undeniable talent on offense. As Matt alluded to, Oakland fields a top-10 offensive line that was bolstered by the selection of two tackles in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. Their core of skill players -- Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Jared Cook, and Lynch -- is better on paper than it was in 2016 when the Raiders averaged 25.3 points per game. And unlike last year, Carr won't be playing through a broken back. This is an offense that can easily support double-digit touchdowns from it's featured running back.