What once seemed like a far-fetched rumor or the kind of thing you'd pull off in Madden '18, the reality is that Marshawn Lynch may very well be wearing silver and black next season. The once-retired, Skittles-loving running back is bringing the rainbow to his hometown of Oakland. That is, once he gets officially reinstated by the league and the Raiders are able to acquire his rights.
If this comes to fruition, which may just be a formality at this point, does Lynch still have any fantasy viability? His age and prolonged absence from the league say no, but his track record and potential for red zone opportunities say yes. Let's break down the possibilities to get a sense of just where Lynch should go in early drafts.
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Marshawn Lynch's Impact in Oakland
There's a reason Lynch abruptly retired before the age of 30. In the 2015 season, Lynch averaged 3.8 yards per carry in the seven games he played; he also scored just three touchdowns after leading the league in rushing TD the previous two seasons. He was even less effective in the passing game, which was once considered a strength of his during his time in Buffalo, averaging a career-low 6.2 yards per reception. Coming off a Super Bowl loss the previous year, the Seahawks didn't experience much of a hangover, finishing 10-6, but Lynch went from injured to demotivated to retired in a hurry.
Fast forward to the present and Lynch suddenly has a burning desire to play again, but on one condition - it has to be in his home city of Oakland. The irony of course is that the Raiders will be moving to Las Vegas within two years, so Lynch's return, as exciting as it may be for Raiders' fans, should be short-lived. For now, we're only concerned with the upcoming season and how Lynch may benefit fantasy teams.
Lynch wasn't nicknamed "Beast Mode" for nothing. His tough-running ways and ability to break tackles make him an ideal runner between the tackles. In his last full season of 2014, Lynch led the league in Missed Tackles Forced with a whopping 101 missed tackles. According to ProFootballFocus, he also finished first on a per-game basis with 3.14 touches/MT. Not surprisingly, he also led the league in Yards After Contact, gaining nearly three extra yards per carry, and Elusiveness Rating at 94.3. Ironically, the man he is replacing for the early-down role in Oakland, Latavius Murray, had the fourth-lowest Elusiveness Rating at 13.9 and Missed Tackles Forced at 14.14 touches/MT that same season.
If Murray was able to punch in 12 rushing scores behind a dominant offensive line, despite being fairly easy to bring down, could Lynch surpass that total? The Raiders' offensive line was the second-ranked group in the preseason and graded out as the fourth-best unit in the NFL for 2016. The majority of their damage in the run offense came straight up the middle, which plays to Lynch's strengths.
Murray had a 70% red zone share in rushing attempts and a 47% overall share. Lynch, assuming he is fully healthy, should have similar numbers. This means about 15 carries per game, which translates to just under 70 yards a game if he maintains a healthy 4.5 Y/A. It would be easy to get carried away and say that Lynch could easily replicate the 12 TD Murray scored last year or the 12 TD he averaged between 2011-2014. The difference is that Lynch will be 31 years old when the season starts and there will be a year's worth of rust to shake off. His ADP is yet to be determined since he hasn't been reinstated yet, but an educated guess would place him between rounds 9-12, since that would be just outside the top 30 RB.
How Will Other Players Be Affected?
It seems likely that the Oakland offense will run the exact same way as it did in 2016. Second-year players DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard will come in on passing downs and for a couple of series each to provide some speed. Neither will get looks near the goal-line, since they each stand 5'8" tall. Add in Jamize Olawale and the next three backs combined for 14 red zone carries. Nobody else in Oakland's backfield is worth attention in standard leagues and only if there is an injury should either Richard or Washington be considered as a bench stash in PPR. In terms of the passing game, nothing much should change either. The Raiders work primarily out of the shotgun, so Lynch, as a reclamation project, will be made to fit into the offense, not vice versa.
Interestingly, in this case we don't have any adjustments to make for Lynch's former team because the Seahawks have already had a year to move on. We broke down Eddie Lacy's signing in Seattle for you already - he will play a role similar to Lynch in Oakland as the grinder while C.J. Prosise and Thomas Rawls compete for touches by offering speed and agility. Lacy has also rated highly in elusiveness when healthy, but Seattle's offensive line won't do him any favors. The 'Hawks hogs ranked dead-last in the league in 2016, with only center Justin Britt ranking as high as the top-20 at his position. A between-the-tackles runner like Lacy may suffer the same fate Lynch did in his last go-round in 2015. Believe it or not, Lynch may have a leg up on Lacy in Seattle and Latavius Murray in Minnesota because of the O-line play.
Lynch's chances for success actually seem better than we would expect for an aging running back. The key here is conditioning. Lynch was remarkably durable throughout his career, in spite of his physical style of play. With no lingering injuries and plenty of time to rest, he should clearly be healthy, but will have to prove that he has the stamina to play a 16-game schedule. Don't overpay for Lynch based on fond memories of the past; he shouldn't be anything higher than an RB3 in 12-team leagues. The best move may be to grab him as an RB4, if possible, and stash him for the second half of the season once he gets his legs under him and his feel for the game completely back.
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