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Say what you want about the guy, but Marshawn Lynch is one of the most entertaining running backs in NFL history both on and off the field. This offseason, he surprised the Fantasy Sports world once again when he came out of retirement to join his hometown Oakland Raiders. Now 31 years old, there are a ton of questions regarding his health and physical condition.
There’s no denying that from 2011-2014, Lynch was one of the most consistent running backs in Fantasy Football, regardless of format (see below). The problem is the last time we saw Lynch was the 2015 season, when he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, while battling hamstring and abdomen injuries. Perhaps a year off did his body well. We saw an older Adrian Peterson return to football after missing nearly an entire season. In 2015, at 30 years old, AP rushed 327 times for 1,485 yards and 11 TDs. It’s not impossible.
We’ll know more about Lynch’s physical health once we see him in pads during the preseason. For now, let’s focus on how he fits in with the Raiders. First up is the offensive line. The Raiders have one of the best in the entire NFL, albeit much better in pass protection. According to Football Outsiders, their line ranked first in pass protection and 11th in run blocking. Regardless, it’s a strong unit with everybody from 2016 still intact.
As a team, the Raiders had the 11th most rushing attempts in 2016 with 434, which bodes well for Lynch. What doesn’t bode well is the fact that the Raiders used a committee approach. They were one of only two teams last season that had three different running backs with at least 83 carries. Jalen Richard had 83, DeAndre Washington had 87, and Latavius Murray had 195. Given Lynch’s age and the Raiders’ willingness to keep fresh legs on the field, I’d bet on a similar usage again in 2017.
Obviously, Lynch takes over the role Murray left behind. That’s the good news. Murray finished as RB13 in both standard and PPR formats last season despite just 195 carries. In fact, his 195 carries were the lowest of any running back who finished inside the Top 15 in either format. Murray’s 12 rushing touchdowns ranked fifth in the NFL and that’s the reason he was so valuable.
I mentioned the Raiders used a committee approach but when they get into the red zone, this will be Lynch’s job. Murray had 38 carries inside the red zone, tied for ninth in 2016. Furthermore, he had 25 carries inside the 10, tied for seventh among running backs, and that’s where he scored 11 of his 12 touchdowns. Washington and Richard could see a series here or there between the 20s, but when it’s crunch time in the red zone, Lynch will be used the same way Murray was last season.
There are question marks when drafting Lynch and that’s fair. It will be interesting to see his where he stands physically come preseason, but even an 80 percent, Lynch is better than Murray. It’s not a knock on Murray but rather high praise for Lynch’s talent. Lynch is currently being drafted as RB17 at pick 48.8 in NFFC ADP. He should be targeted as a RB2 in Round 4 in either format because of his touchdown upside in a potent offense. If he turns out to be the Lynch of old, Fantasy owners could be looking at a Top 10 back. There’s also a chance he should have stayed retired. That’s what makes it a somewhat risky pick.
EDDIE LACY TO THE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
I’ll spare you the fat jokes but it is no secret Eddie Lacy had issues with his conditioning. At his latest weigh-in, Lacy needed to be less than 250 pounds to earn another incentive, which he did. It was his second of seven weigh-ins, each earning him $ 55,000 if he meets the target weight. The plan is for Lacy to clock in at 245 pounds for the start of the regular season. Still just 26 years old, I think we all know Lacy can play. It’s just a matter of how motivated he is.
Last season was a train wreck for the former Packer but there was still one major positive. He averaged a career-high 5.1 yards per carry, albeit in a small sample size (just 71 rushing attempts). Given his size and strength, he’s always been able to absorb some contact and was very useful on or near the goal line. As a rookie, Lacy scored all 11 of his rushing touchdowns from within the red zone with 10 of those coming from inside the 10. In his sophomore season, he scored eight of nine from inside the red zone. The last few seasons, the Packers got away from using Lacy in that area of the field. That’s why his Fantasy production suffered.
If Lacy is going to score touchdowns this season, the Seahawks’ offensive line has no choice but to be better. In 2016, the line ranked 26th in run blocking. Seahawks running backs were tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage third-most in the league. In an effort to improve, the team signed Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi, adding two more in the draft. The team has just $ 15.59 million invested in their offensive line, the lowest total in the NFL. This isn’t uncommon for the Seahawks, as they usually draft linemen and develop from within the organization. On paper, this unit should be better in 2017, the question is how much better.
Along with the offensive line woes, Lacy has to fight off both Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise for carries. The Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta revealed his hypothesis that Rawls and Lacy will “take a fairly equal share of the base down carries.” Uh oh. That’s the last thing any Fantasy owner wants to hear. In Lacy’s defense, Rawls averaged just 3.2 yards per carry last season. As mentioned, the offensive line was horrendous, but Christine Michael still averaged 4.0 YPC and Prosise averaged 5.7. Obviously, whoever produces early on should see more of the workload, and if Lacy can approach his career 4.4 YPC, the job should be his.
Just last year, Michael and Rawls combined for 818 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 226 carries. That number assigned to a singular player would have finished as a Top-24 running back in Fantasy last season. Here at RotoExperts, we have Lacy projected for 1,077 total yards and seven touchdowns, which would rank as RB20 in standard and RB28 in PPR. He’s much more valuable in standard leagues because he will be touchdown dependent and Prosise will be the pass-catching back. If Lacy is motivated and runs hard, he could flirt with a 1,000-yard season and double-digit touchdowns. If not, he could be off the Seahawks roster by midseason. It’s a risky pick, but one worth taking as your RB3 or flex at his current NFFC ADP of 77.1.
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