Marshawn Lynch Is a Fantasy Football Value at His Current Cost

Lynch quietly turned it on late last year, and despite the arrival of Doug Martin, there's reason to buy into Lynch at his current draft cost.

It was a tale of two fantasy seasons for Marshawn Lynch last year.

Following a one-year retirement, Lynch joined his hometown Oakland Raiders to play the final few seasons in Oakland before the team moves to Las Vegas. From a fantasy perspective, owners were excited to see Lynch return from retirement, believing he could be a solid producer in an offense that was missing a lead back.

Well, the fantasy community was kind of right as Lynch was a solid fantasy back over the second half of the season.

This year, Oakland has brought in Doug Martin, and drafters have soured on Lynch, making him the PPR RB34, per Fantasy Football Calculator. But there's reason to think Lynch can provide solid value at that cost.

Let's dig in.

Breaking Down 2017

In 2017, Lynch carried an average draft position (ADP) of RB19 in PPR formats. But through the first seven weeks of the season, Lynch was far from the coveted asset the fantasy community had hoped he'd be. He scored as a top-20 running back in just one week during that time. In four of those first seven games, he finished outside the top 30 in weekly scoring.

While Lynch may have needed to knock off some rust, it was his lack of big-time volume that hurt his fantasy stock the most. During this stretch, Lynch split playing time with Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. He played more than 50% of the team's snaps in just one game over the first half of the year, and he had more than 15 carries in a game just once.

But following a one-game suspension, Lynch showed over the second half of the year that he was still capable of producing like a top-end running back -- even if it was too late for some fantasy owners who had drafted Lynch.

From Week 9 to Week 16, the final seven weeks of the fantasy season, Lynch finished as a top-20 back three times, all of which were top-10 performances. Over this time, he played more than 50% of the snaps in four games and also had more than 15 carries four times.

It was a strong second half for Lynch last year, but that hasn't kept his ADP in the RB2 (top-24) range. This can be partly attributed to a new coaching staff and new competition, with Martin being inked to a one-year deal in March.

But should we be all that worried about Martin eating into Lynch's workload?

Martin Isn't Much Competition

Since Martin's signing, there have been reports that the 29-year-old Martin would push to form a committee with the 32-year-old Lynch this year. But if Martin's performance over the past two years tells us anything, it's that he shouldn't be considered a threat to steal significant carries from Lynch (or anyone, really).

Yes, Martin is just two years removed from a 1,400-yard season -- a year in which he finished as the overall RB4 in fantasy leagues -- but over the past two campaigns, Martin has failed to crack 3.0 yards per carry or run for more than 450 yards in a season.

Per our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can read about in our glossary, Martin was one of the least productive runners in the league in 2017.

Last season, there were 47 running backs who tallied at least 100 carries, and Martin's Rushing NEP per carry (-0.16) ranked 45th, tied with Jerick McKinnon and better than only Chris Ivory (-0.17). Martin's Rushing Success Rate (28.99%), the percentage of runs that produced positive NEP, ranked dead last in that same sample.

As a comparison, Lynch ranked 11th in Rushing NEP per carry (-0.01) and 8th in Success Rate (40.1%) among that group.

And before you start thinking that maybe Martin's situation on the Buccaneers was the reason for his shoddy production, check out how Martin's numbers compare to his fellow Tampa backs.

Player Carries Yards TDs Rushing NEP per Rush Success Rate
Doug Martin 138 406 3 -0.16 28.99%
Peyton Barber 108 423 3 0.01 45.37%
Jacquizz Rodgers 64 244 1 -0.07 37.50%
Charles Sims 21 95 0 0.01 38.10%

Martin was bad last year -- very bad. There's just no other way to say it.

Another area where Lynch is superior to Martin is in the red zone. Last season, Lynch handled 75% of the Raiders' carries in the red zone. Martin, on the other hand, had 37% of the Buccaneers' running back carries in the red zone and was far less effective than Lynch.

Red Zone Carries Yards TDs Rushing NEP per Rush Success Rate
Marshawn Lynch 24 61 4 0.09 54.17%
Doug Martin 20 37 3 0.02 30.00%

Even though they had similar results in the box score, Lynch was a far more effective back, per our metrics.

After two down seasons, Martin is far from a lock to return to relevance.

A Coaching Change

As we pointed out earlier, Lynch was a different back over the course of the second half of last season, a back that resembled the "Beast Mode" fantasy owners had known from his time in Seattle. That was in part due to an increased workload, but it's difficult to project that type of volume carrying over from 2017 with a new coaching staff in Oakland.

The Raiders brought Jon Gruden, signing him to a 10-year contract in January. We haven't seen Gruden as a head coach since 2008, but between his two coaching stints with the Raiders and Buccaneers from 1998 to 2008, only two running backs ever topped 1,000 yards rushing in one season under him -- Tyrone Wheatley in 2000 (1,046 yards) and Cadillac Williams in 2005 (1,178 yards).

Additionally, over that 10-year span, Gruden utilized multiple backs often in both Tampa Bay and Oakland. There were only three seasons (2004 through 2006) in which one back saw more than 50% of the team's carries.

While running backs on Gruden-coached teams haven't lit up the box scores, it's important to remember that this data is from 10 years ago. We won't know how Gruden's offensive philosophy looks until preseason action begins. Although, another coaching narrative that may be beneficial is Gruden's hire of Tom Cable as his offensive line coach. Cable was the offensive line coach in Seattle from 2011 to 2014 and during those four seasons, Lynch averaged 1,339 yards per year.

Fantasy Implications

With a new coach and new competition for touches, Lynch's perceived fantasy prospects have kept his ADP pretty low.

He's currently being drafted 85th overall in best-ball leagues and 76th overall in PPR. At that cost, he is a worthwhile gamble outside the top-30 running backs.

Lynch showed us over the second half of the season that he can still be a productive fantasy back, and he'll be running behind one of the better offensive lines in the league, a group our Jim Sannes ranked as the sixth-best entering 2018.

Running backs are wildly popular this year, with 14 going in the first two rounds of PPR formats. After the first few rounds, Lynch is one of only a couple backs who has a good shot at lead-back volume. Should he carry over his second-half performance from last year and hold off a wildly ineffective Martin for carries, Lynch has the chance to easily outperform his current draft position.