With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Up next is a look at whether the Oakland Raiders’ always entertaining running back still has gas left in the tank.
Marshawn Lynch‘s glorious career has been highlighted by golf carts, brief and direct press conferences, and an internal yearning for contact. His return from a brief one-year retirement last season was rooted in his desire to play for his hometown fans before the franchise is uprooted to Las Vegas.
Now 32 years old, Lynch isn’t quite the same specimen as we saw in years past – but that doesn’t mean he’s a useless fantasy football commodity.
Lynch Played Well in 2017 After a Slow Start
After two convincing victories to start the season, the Raiders went on to lose 10 of their final 14 games and missed the playoffs. A lingering back injury helped derail Derek Carr‘s productivity while calling into question his status as a top quarterback, and Amari Cooper‘s failure to take a step forward held back the overall explosiveness of the offense.
And then there was Lynch, who was a non-factor initially, but eventually returned from his one-game suspension with a vengeance.
Marshawn Lynch before and after Week 8 suspension
Weeks 1-7: Standard RB35, PPR RB43, 3.7 YPC, 2 TDs
Weeks 9-17: Standard RB11, PPR RB13, 4.6 YPC, 5 TDs
… still a beast pic.twitter.com/uDne7020JD
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 10, 2018
It was impressive to see Lynch make it through an entire season injury-free, and his physical running style wasn’t too far removed from what we grew used to seeing in Seattle. Overall, Lynch was one of just 12 backs to average at least 3.0 yards after contact per rush, and he finished fourth among 28 full-time backs in Pro Football Focus’ Elusive Rating metric.
Lynch was the Raiders undisputed goal-line back, but this role produced just eight carries inside the 5-yard line all season. Oakland was one of just six teams with 10 or fewer rushing attempts inside the 5 last season, and Lynch saw an average of 13.3 such carries during his six seasons with the Seahawks.
While Lynch could see a modest uptick in goal-line touches, a three-down workhorse role may not be in the cards.
Competition For Touches
Lynch filled the role of starting running back for Oakland last season, but that role didn’t consist of much passing-game work. This lead to plenty of game script issues for Lynch throughout the season, as he was regularly out-snapped by the combination of Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington.
Marshawn Lynch usage in 2017:
-Played fewer than 50% of snaps in 9/15 games
-0 games with 3+ targets in Weeks 1-11 … 5 games from Weeks 12-17
-1 game with 15+ carries in Weeks 1-11 … 5 games from Weeks 12-17 pic.twitter.com/Q3GcpVbE15
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 11, 2018
Lynch’s increase in snaps and touches toward the end of the season could be seen as a positive entering 2018, but the addition of Doug Martin, and an overhaul in offensive scheme with the arrival of Jon Gruden, stacks the odds against that type of workload repeating. A lack of a passing-game role isn’t a death sentence for running backs (especially those with goal-line duties), but workhorse and space backs have consistently proven to be more valuable fantasy assets than one-dimensional early-down backs.
Gruden’s decision to bring in offensive line coach Tom Cable is great news for Lynch, though; Cable and Beast Mode formed an incredibly productive partnership in Seattle from 2011 to 2015. And in theory, the league’s third-most expensive offensive line could help return the pair to their glory days.
Gruden Isn’t the Most Fantasy-Friendly Coach for RBs
Gruden’s return to Oakland was met with plenty of hoopla at first, but the former Monday Night Football commentator’s Super Bowl pedigree has potentially morphed our perception of just how good of a coach he really was in his most recent coaching stint. Gruden didn’t coach a single top-10 scoring offense from 2002 to 2008 with the Buccaneers after doing so in four of six seasons with the Eagles and Raiders. In fact, the Bucs never finished higher than 18th in scoring during the Gruden era.
Naturally, this lack of scoring power didn’t help produce a plethora of high-scoring fantasy backs.
Jon Gruden's top RB finished as the PPR RB15 or worse in 8/11 of his seasons as HC …
… but Beast Mode RB33 ADP seems reasonable enough to beat
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 11, 2018
The same story is true for Gruden’s previous quarterbacks. He’s only produced two 1,000-yard backs in 11 seasons as a head coach, although his west-coast offense led to at least 40+ receptions for one of his running backs in eight different seasons.
The Buccaneers didn’t finish among the league’s top-10 offenses in rush attempts, yards, or touchdowns during Gruden’s tenure, and it’s safe to say Lynch’s current ability doesn’t quite match the three-down skill set Charlie Garner brought to the Raiders back in the day.
It’s not unreasonable to think Lynch could match his production from last season, but there’s enough uncertainty surrounding his role and workload to call his ceiling into question.
The addition of Martin, along with the current decision to stick with Richard and Washington, makes it unlikely Lynch becomes less game-flow dependent. Per our NFL Trends tool, since 2014 Lynch has averaged 17.2 DraftKings points per game and a +3.04 Plus/Minus in 29 games as a favorite, but 9.8 and -1.83, respectively, in 10 games as an underdog.
Still, even if his days of working as a top-10 fantasy back are behind him, based on his on-field performance last season and his expected early-down and goal line roles this season, he’s plenty capable of outperforming his current ADP (RB33 as of this writing).
Pictured above: Marshawn Lynch
Photo credit: Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports