Marshawn Lynch: Will $18 Million Calm The Beast?

Marshawn LynchFast forward to August. It is now midway through the first round of your fantasy draft, and you are on the clock. Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, and Maurice Jones-Drew are already off the board. And although you are strongly considering your options at QB and WR, part of you feels compelled to secure a RB now. And Marshawn Lynch is available. What should you do?

The four-year contract that he signed with the Seahawks on March 3, adds considerably more intrigue to that question. The agreement is worth $31 million, $18 million of which is guaranteed. The deal also includes a $6 million signing bonus, with base salaries that are guaranteed in both 2012 and 2013.

It made sense for Seattle General Manager John Schneider to secure Lynch, who finished seventh in rushing yardage with 1,204, and tied for third among all backs with 12 regular season TDs. Those numbers established new career bests, and were generated in great part during Marshawn Lynch’s explosion over the final nine games of the year, when he punished opponents for 941 yards, while scoring nine times.

All of which easily propels him into the top 10 among all backs among your consideration in fantasy drafts, with most rankings (including mine) including him with the top six. However, that does not mean that selecting the seventh-year back is without risk. His excellent production during the latter half of 2011, overshadowed his struggles during September and October, when he failed to rush for 35 yards in four of his first six contests. And while his 4.2 YPC was a definite improvement over his career average of 4.0, and the anemic 3.5 that he generated in 2010, it only tied him for 29th among all backs.

In fact, it’s difficult to argue, that his success was attained primarily through the benefit of a heavy workload. He was allotted the NFL’s fourth highest number of carries (285), and averaged 23.4 APG during his nine game surge. If he had been allotted a moderate workload, his YPC indicates that his final output would have been undistinguished.

Plus, you must ask yourself the question… will Lynch maintain beast mode, now that $18 mil in guaranteed money will be coming his way? Owners that drafted Chris Johnson with a top six pick last summer, would prefer not to revisit their experience of watching in horror as he honored his new multi-year contract by averaging a paltry 4.0 YPC, scoring just four TDs, and managing just 1,047 yards.

Of course, any other remaining alternatives for your No.1 RB will possess question marks in their own right. The case could be made, that Matt Forte should be the next back selected. He did generate 1,487 total yards in 12 contests last year, but will be returning from the knee injury that shortened his season. Plus, (as of this writing) there is the possibility that he will hold out, due to disenchantment with his franchise tag. Adrian Peterson will not resume his customary spot in the first round of fantasy drafts, in the aftermath of late December surgery for torn ligaments in his left knee. Michael Turner has averaged 297 carries during his four seasons with the Falcons, and is a strong candidate for diminished production.

Frank Gore and Steven Jackson will both be 29 when the season begins, and even though they have each been highly successful during their careers, their collective workload is a concern. Gore has logged 1,526 carries over the past six seasons, while Jackson has been allotted 2,004 attempts since 2005. Those numbers compare unfavorably with Lynch’s 1,137 career attempts. Darren McFadden’s propensity for injury is unparalleled, as he has missed 19 games in four seasons. Jamaal Charles is returning from a torn ACL. Ryan Mathews has managed just 380 carries in two seasons, and remains unproven as an every week No. 1 in fantasy. And you are assuming sizable risk by choosing Johnson, whose yardage total was nearly 500 yards below his average from the previous three years (1,533), and was only the league’s 14th highest. All other RBs who have not been mentioned, are clearly inferior options to Lynch.

Marshawn LynchTherefore, we’ve established the logic in selecting Lynch fifth among all RBs. But will he deliver on the hefty investment that you will make, by expending such an early pick? There are sufficient reasons to believe that he will. First, his exhaustive role with the Seahawks will continue this season. Seattle is dependent upon their running attack in order to succeed, yet there is no discernible threat to pilfer Marshawn Lynch’s touches. Which ensures that he will be utilized extensively. Even if he maintains last season’s less than desirable YPC, the high volume that he will be allotted almost guarantees significant yardage and scoring.

That means Lynch will be provided with the opportunity to succeed. No small accomplishment, in this era when over 20 NFL teams employ the completely dreaded committee approach, which neutralizes the output that most backs can supply. And for those who have concern that even with the sizable workload, his 2011 production was merely the proverbial “one hit wonder”, it is noteworthy that he has exceeded 1,000 yards every year in which he has been allotted at least 250 carries.  In 2007-2008, he averaged 1,075 yards, on 265 attempts, while his yardage output declined in correspondence with a diminished workload in 2009-2010.

The only remaining question should be whether he will possess the same degree of aggressiveness that he exhibited last season. The belief here, is that Lynch will not replicate the maddeningly lethargic effort that Johnson displayed throughout much of last season, and will instead continue to run with reckless abandon, just as he did prior to receiving his lucrative deal. He should revert to his version of beast mode, and provide you with monster numbers again in 2012.


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