What Is Marshawn Lynch's Fantasy Football Outlook in the Oakland Raiders' Offense?
If you knew, say, five years ago that a 32-year-old Adrian Peterson would sign a two-year deal with the New Orleans Saints in the 2017 offseason, you might have assumed that he just kept playing at his perceived elite level year after year. After all, two years for a 32-year-old back isn't something you see every day.
If you also were told that Marshawn Lynch, at age 31, would get a two-year deal with the Oakland Raiders in that same offseason, well, you might think that those two backs just held up well and even that the league's passing trend scaled back a bit.
Of course, we know that's not the full story, but we now have two of the NFL's biggest-name backs joining different teams for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
We've already tried to figure out the fantasy football headache that is the Saints' backfield, but what does Lynch's presence do for the Raiders?
Lynch's Recent History
We last saw Beast Mode play an NFL snap in 2015, when he was limited to a career-low seven games and 111 carries. He tallied just 417 yards, good for 3.8 per carry -- the second-lowest rate of his career.
But yards per carry needs added context, as it doesn't account for situation, so let's turn to our Net Expected Points (NEP) model to try to get some clarity on Lynch's recent efficiency.
NEP, if you're new around here, rewards players for making positive plays and penalizes them for negative ones (and possibly just as importantly, it doesn't reward players for empty production). A quick example is a three-yard run. Bad, right? Well, on 3rd-and-1, it's a great play. On 3rd-and-5, not so much. Over a season, those plays add up, allowing NEP to highlight the truly productive players.
So, here are Lynch's Rushing NEP marks, including his per-carry rates and his Success Rate, which is the percentage of carries that actually lead to expected-point gains, since 2011. We'll also compare those to the team's overall rates (running backs only) for some added context.
Lynch, even with his high volume, maintained some efficiency in his years with Seattle, relative to the other running backs on his own team. He outpaced the team's collective running back Rushing NEP per carry from 2011 through 2014 and did the same in terms of Success Rate.
The 2015 season is cause for concern. He played below the Seahawks' running back average by our metrics, but he was, of course, limited with hamstring and sports hernia issues that derailed his season.
Further, Lynch has ranked inside the top 20 at the position in receptions with 36 in 2013 and 37 in 2014. By Reception NEP per catch, he ranked 17th among 31 backs with 30-plus catches in 2013 and 11th among 31 in 2014. He's not incapable of adding value through the air, but he maxed out as an average receiving back even in his prime.
Impact in Oakland's Backfield
In 2016, Murray -- on 195 rushes -- notched a 0.04 Rushing NEP per carry, ranking 12th among 42 backs with 100 or more carries. He ranked 20th in Success Rate (40.51%). Those are strong marks -- just not relative to other Raiders' backs.
Overall, Oakland backs secured a 0.04 Rushing NEP per carry and 42.82% Success Rate, and other rushers on the team outperformed Murray on moderate volume, especially Jalen Richard.
|Full Name||Rush||Rush NEP||Rush NEP/Carry||Success Rate|
DeAndre Washington posted the same per-play efficiency as Murray but did so on a much higher Success Rate. Still, Oakland leaned primarily on Murray, giving him nearly 200 carries. Lynch, provided he's healthy, should be able to play at a similar level in terms of efficiency, based on his track record even in later years in his career and the ability of this offensive line.
The other critical variable for Lynch's fantasy value (in addition to the volume he sees) is red zone usage.
Murray saw 76.2% of the Raiders' carries from inside the five last season, per ProFootballReference. That ranked fifth-highest in the NFL. He scored 9 touchdowns on those 16 attempts. He had 12 scores on the full year.
Murray received 25 carries from inside the 10 (78.1%, fourth-highest) and scored 11 times. In all, Murray had 38 red zone carries for a market share of 66.7% (sixth-highest).
That lines up well with what Lynch has done in the past.
In 2014, Lynch saw 52 red zone carries (64.2% of Seattle's attempts) and 14 from inside the five (87.5%). He saw slightly higher marks in 2013, with 56 red zone carries (65.9%) and 22 from inside the five (88.0%).
In 2012, he had 50 carries from inside the 20 (68.5%) and 9 from inside the five (69.2%).
And with a shortened 2015 campaign and a year off in 2016, he isn't your usual 31-year-old rusher.
He doesn't have much receiving upside to bring to the table but has had 36- and 37-catch seasons in his past two healthy years. (Murray had 41 catches in 2015 and 33 in 2016.) The modest receiving volume and heavy red zone usage was enough for Murray to post the RB13 season in PPR formats in 2016.
With four more months until the height of fantasy draft season, we don't need to rush to judgment here. If Lynch looks to be the lead back with red zone carries locked up, the upside is obvious, especially as part of the eighth-most efficient offense in the NFL last season, according to our metrics.
If the Raiders draft another back who can compete with Lynch, Richard, and Washington, or Lynch struggles with the injuries that knocked him out in 2015, then perhaps Beast Mode is unleashed in smaller doses.
Lynch's path to a top-10 fantasy season isn't too obstructed right now, but that's not to say it's without plenty of possible red flags come August.