Marshawn Lynch should be a fantasy RB2 with upside in Oakland
After weeks of speculation, Marshawn Lynch decided to pull his cleats down from the telephone wire and return to the NFL after agreeing to terms with the Raiders on Friday. Lynch’s rights are still held by the Seahawks, but a trade seems imminent. He returns in what will be his age-31 season, and how he’ll fare seems to be one of the most polarizing topics in fantasy circles.
The prevailing argument is that Lynch is on the wrong side of the 30 and coming off a year out of football. His dwindling yards per carry (3.8), injury issues, and the fact that he was thoroughly outplayed by Thomas Rawls in 2015 bode poorly for sustained success in 2017.
There’s certainly some merit to this narrative, but we do have some cursory analysis going on here. The idea that Lynch’s play declined in 2015 seems to be a bit off base. Our analysts graded out Lynch as the No. 3 running back over the first 10 weeks of the season before his injury. Sure, his yards per carry was lackluster, but he was also running behind one of the league’s worst run-blocking units.
But how does that explain Rawls performance? I’m going to share a secret with you, but don’t tell anyone. Ready? Rawls really wasn’t that great in 2015. Sure, he put up some big numbers, but he actually only had four 100-yard games. Those performances all came against bottom-half rushing defenses, and his 200-yard outburst in Week 11 was against the league’s worst run defense: the 49ers.
While we can’t debunk the injury or over-the-hill ideas, the notion that Lynch played poorly in 2015 just doesn’t hold up. Of course, fantasy owners were certainly spoiled by Lynch’s production with Seattle. He topped 1,000 yards four straight seasons from 2011 to 2014 and was a top-five fantasy option all four years. Better yet, he did so behind middling run-blocking units. Lynch’s strength has always been after contact. He’s been one of the most effective backs at creating yards after contact and forcing missed tackles, the latter of which he led all running backs in 2012 and 2013.
In Oakland, he’ll have the benefit of playing behind one of the league’s best offensive lines and arguably the best offensive line of his career. The Raiders graded out as fifth in run-blocking last season, helping Latavius Murray to an unlikely 13th-place fantasy finish among running backs. If Lynch can stay healthy and doesn’t show major ill effects of missing a year of football, he figures to step right in and lead the Oakland backfield in touches. As such, he can conservatively be placed in the RB2 conversation. There’s certainly a lot of risk with Lynch for fantasy purposes, but the reward is very intriguing.