Marshawn Lynch: The Best Running Back Over the Past Three Years

Marshawn Lynch may be misunderstood, but his play on the field is as clear as can be.

Mention Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch’s name in public or on Twitter, and I guarantee you will receive a litany of responses. Reporters call him “pathetic” for not talking to the media while others view “Beast Mode” as a “breath of fresh air.”

There is no doubt Lynch is misunderstood. We cast judgement on athletes that we barely know without a general understanding of who they are as human beings. We expect them to be robots in front of the media and then chastise them when they do the opposite. And instead of talking about Marshawn Lynch’s earth-shattering 79-yard run against the Cardinals on Sunday Night Football, yet again, the story was about how Marshawn Lynch “hates” the media on Monday morning.

However, there is another way to view Marshawn Lynch: the best. Yes, Lynch has been the best running back in the NFL over the last three years, and what he is doing on the field needs to be cherished instead of scrutinized. In today’s NFL, there may never be another running back like Marshawn Lynch. He’s that good.

Beast Mode: Not Just A Nickname

Not only is Marshawn Lynch a transcending figure in the media’s eye, but also he is quite literally the epitome of transcending on an NFL field. He does everything well. He has hawk-like vision, is incredibly explosive, and can run over anything and anyone who stands in his path.

Lynch’s ability to make himself “small” and contort his body to hit a small opening the offensive line generates is uncanny, and probably the best in the league; and his low center of gravity while making open-field cuts given his relative size is something to be marveled at.

For anyone watching, Marshawn Lynch is just fun. What he’s done in Seattle over the last three seasons is truly awe-inspiring and may never be repeated in today’s modern NFL. Just how good has he been? Just look.

At numberFire, we quantify a players ability above or below expectation in Net Expected Points (NEP). Given that running the football is, generally, inefficient, a running backs Rushing NEP is usually lower on a relative scale when compared to a receiver or tight end. With that said, here is what Marshawn Lynch has done over the last three years. To qualify, a running back must have had 128 carries on a given season (at least 8 carries per-game). Overall rankings for the given year are in parenthesis.

YearGAtt.YardsYPCTDsRush NEPRush NEP/P
20121631515905.051119.92 (3rd of 27)0.06 (3rd of 27)
20131630112574.18124.81 (8th of 28)0.02 (T-7th of 28)
20141526612464.681226.35 (1st of 36)0.10 (T-2nd of 36)

As evidenced by the above table, Lynch has been incredibly consistent. Beast Mode finished third in total rushing yards in 2012, sixth in 2013, and is currently on pace to finish third this year. Despite Le’Veon Bell’s breakout, Justin Forsett’s emergence, and DeMarco Murray’s dominance, Marshawn Lynch is now the leader in the clubhouse in Rushing NEP on the season.

Lynch is in the perfect situation for his skill-set. Seattle employs a power-run scheme that allows Marshawn to get downhill in a hurry while shredding opposing defenses. And, Lynch does enjoy some of his success due in part to Russell Wilson’s rushing ability opening up rushing lanes and scaring defenses on the edges with the read-option, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Lynch’s ability. Not only does Wilson’s presence help his running back’s rushing success, but also he helps him in another department Lynch is very under-rated in: the passing game.

While Lynch is enjoying his third straight season with double-digit rushing touchdowns, he is statistically having his best season ever in the receiving game. Lynch is known for his prowess and power-running (rightfully so), but he is consistently among the NFL’s best pass-catching backs.

To qualify, a running back must have had 25 targets on a given season (at least 1.56 targets per-game).

YearTargetsRec.YardsTDsRec. NEPTarget NEP
20123023196113.68 (18th of 49)5.32 (20th of 49)
20134436316216.11 (22nd of 50)9.84 (18th of 50)
20144534331419.84 (13th of 55)7.30 (14th of 55)

Lynch may never lead the NFL in receptions or yards among running backs given Seattle’s offensive scheme, but he is very efficient given he has only seen 2.53 targets per game over the last three seasons. While his dynamic running ability is often talked about, Lynch is more than an asset in the ‘Hawks passing attack.

The Best? “Thanks For Asking”

There is no doubt in my mind that Marshawn Lynch will forever be mistaken in the media’s eye. He doesn’t like talking or making matters about himself, he just plays the game. He genuinely just lets his actions on the field replace what he says off of the field.

Actions speak louder than words, and Lynch’s play on the field in Seattle screams he is the best. From 2011-2014, Marshawn Lynch leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns (47) and rushing yards (5,297), and he has only missed one game during that four year timespan.

Reporters, Seahawks’ fans, and NFL fans alike often seek a quote from a player after a big game to gain further knowledge of the athlete or to atone for how he or she feels about them. Let’s be honest: that will never happen with Marshawn Lynch. That’s not who he is. Instead of focusing on his public speaking ability and perception, let’s focus on how incredibly gifted Beast Mode is on the field -- because, with the way the NFL is shifting toward a more pass-heavy league -- we may never see it again.