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Everything You Need to Know Before Drafting Marshawn Lynch in 2013

marshawnlynchJonathan Bales is the author of the Fantasy Football for Smart People book series. He also writes for the New York Times,, NBC, and Dallas Morning News.

There’s been a lot of rotoViz content written on Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, but I have him ranked so unimaginably low that I had to chime in on a running back who I think is the most overrated consensus first-rounder that I’ve ever seen. Shawn Siegele has already suggested that Lynch is a strong sell, citing his drop in yards after contact, while Frank DuPont notes that Lynch is overvalued due to a combination of his future contract situation and the underrated trio of talented backs behind him.

His ADP Is His Ceiling. . .Or Higher Than It

My primary issue with Lynch is that he’s being drafted as if his ceiling is his median projection. In both standard and PPR leagues, Lynch is currently the fifth running back off of the board. That rank is actually exactly where he ended up last year—you know, the one in which he posted a career-high in attempts, yards, and YPC. Lynch never saw more than 285 carries in a season prior to 2012, but he added 30 to that total last year. He also averaged 5.0 YPC, despite a previous career-high of just 4.2 YPC. Yes, Lynch was never even a league-average runner in terms of efficiency until last year. And just for good measure, Lynch’s 8.5 yards per reception is probably unsustainable.

I might be less worried about Lynch if we could expect his workload to remain steady, but that’s an unreasonable assumption. Russell Wilson passed the ball only 393 times in 2012, and only 141 times when Seattle was leading. At the very least, Lynch is a long shot to again carry the ball 315 times, especially with Christine Michael, Robert Turbin, and Spencer Ware breathing down his neck.

Jon Krouner has pointed out that Lynch could post greater efficiency, although I’m not sure that’s likely either. Lynch’s value is aided most by the presence of Wilson and his ability to run the read-option, but Lynch had that last year—a season in which defenses had to adjust to Wilson’s game on the fly. Can we really expect a running back who entered the 2012 season with a career mark of 3.99 YPC to once again top that number by a full yard?

There’s Risk, But Where’s the Reward?

What happens if Wilson gets injured? Lynch’s value would instantly plummet; there’s probably not a back in the NFL, save Alfred Morris, whose play is so tied to the health of his quarterback. You already have to worry about running back health as it is, so the fact that Lynch would likely see a dramatic decline in efficiency if Wilson gets injured just makes him a bigger risk.

And then there’s Lynch’s age. He came into the league at a young age, so Lynch is “only” 27, but that’s still pretty over-the-hill for a running back. In my book Fantasy Football for Smart People: What the Experts Don’t Want You to Know, I researched historic running back production by age. Below, I charted the results by fantasy points per touch.

RB Percentage of Peak Production

You can see that running backs are basically as efficient as they’ll be from the moment they step on the field, and it’s a slow decline from there. Total production peaks in the mid-20s (because backs typically see heavier workloads), but again, Lynch’s workload is priced into his ADP.

Because of these numbers, I’m rarely ever higher than the consensus on an older running back. The only time that’s the case is if the back’s situation has changed dramatically, a la Steven Jackson, and it isn’t properly reflected in his ADP. Lynch’s situation isn’t improved in 2013.

What About the Aggregate?

I know what you’re thinking; even if you have Lynch projected that low, you shouldn’t have him ranked at No. 19 among running backs because, you know, you could be wrong. You’re exactly right. Frank has done a nice job in the past of explaining why we need to factor our own biases and fallibility into our rankings.

But I have. I actually have Lynch projected at No. 22 among backs in standard leagues and No. 25 in PPR. I raised him to No. 16 in standard and No. 19 in PPR because I know I’m unusually low on him. I just can’t move him more.

Lynch’s Projection

I’m looking at my projection for Lynch right now: 270 carries for 1,200 yards (4.44 YPC), 9 rushing TDs, 18 receptions for 120 yards, 0 receiving TDs.

I’ve already explained why I think Lynch’s workload and efficiency will decrease. Even if you boost Lynch’s efficiency to 4.6 or 4.7 YPC, it wouldn’t change his projection all that much. Running backs separate themselves primarily through their workloads, which can alter in the blink of an eye. There can be large deviations in attempts, but rarely in YPC. Increasing Lynch’s YPC from 4.44 to 4.65 represents a jump of just 4.7 percent.

Most will likely project Lynch to score more, but let’s not forget about the 220-pound stud running back Seattle drafted in the second round. Plus, Lynch’s touchdown rate dropped from 4.2 percent in 2011—without Wilson—to 3.5 percent in 2012. With a drop in carries, Lynch’s touchdown rate would need to increase to pre-Wilson levels for his total to remain steady. And to be honest, 18 receptions might be Lynch’s ceiling; he’s averaged 25.5 per season since coming to Seattle, but he’s likely going to lose some receiving work to the young guns.

So although I’ve ranked Lynch at No. 19 in PPR, these projections actually result in a projection outside of the top 20. I’ve moved Lynch up to account for the fact that I might be wrong, but I can’t move a player who I have projected as a low-end RB2 into RB1 territory.

So for all of those reasons, I won’t own Marshawn Lynch this season. And even if he falls into the second round, you shouldn’t either.

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