Seahawks 2015 Predictions: Is Marshawn Lynch a Threat to Suffer Serious Decline?


The Seattle Seahawks are widely considered the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl again this upcoming season. Many Las Vegas sports books set the ‘Hawks win total at over/under 11 games. But what if Seattle doesn’t make another deep playoff run? What if they don’t even make the playoffs? What could cause Seattle to fall from the NFL elite in the 2015 season? This is part one of a series of articles discussing potential “threats” to the Seattle Seahawks season.

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Marshawn Lynch is a beast, accounting for roughly one-third of Seattle’s total offense last season. His style and productivity defines this Seahawks team and they would struggle without him. Marshawn Lynch is also a 29-year-old running back, which means it’s more probable than not (see what I did there?) that he will soon fall off of the running back “cliff.”

With few exceptions NFL running back performance drops abruptly soon after recording 1,800 career rushes. Lynch currently has 2,220 career rushes (including playoffs). If you use some fancy math skills you can tell he’s on the wrong side of that 1,800-carry ledge. Should Lynch lose “Beast Mode”, a stat from Football Outsiders called “DYAR” helps to explain just how difficult it could be for Seattle to replace his production.

Since becoming a Seahawk, Lynch has never fallen outside of the top five in defense-adjusted yards above replacement (DYAR). DYAR compares a running backs performance to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage – essentially describing their total value.

(Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

For example, Lynch’s 2014 DYAR of 359 means he gained 359 more yards than a replacement level (backup) running back would have gained in the same situations. That was the second highest value in the NFL last season, trailing only DeMarco Murray. It’s not very surprising that Lynch is far better than a replacement level running back, but could his ability decline so quickly that he’d arrive at or below replacement level in a single offseason?

Any Seahawks fan from the Holmgren era knows exactly how quickly a running back can go from hero to zero. In 2005 Shaun Alexander set numerous franchise and NFL records en route to winning the NFL MVP Award. He also finished the year second in DYAR. The next season he surpassed 1,800 career rushes while falling to 44th in DYAR, followed by 45th in 2007. Arguably, there were other factors in play besides career carries, such as the loss of an All Pro lineman and suffering from foot and arm injuries. Speaking of that…

Marshawn Lynch will begin this season without his former All Pro center, Max Unger, and the starting left guard from last year, James Carpenter. This is problematic because Lynch rushes through the middle of the line more than any other direction – 35% of his rushes and 40% of his rushing yards were gained up the middle last season.

While Lynch does possess otherworldly tackle breaking ability, that skill ideally should not be required to get past the first level of the defense…that’s what offensive linemen are for. The Seahawks did acquire a few pieces for the interior of their o-line through the draft but they mostly project as developmental projects rather than week one starters. Instead, Seattle will likely start a noticeably in-shape Alvin Bailey at left guard and the winner of the upcoming camp battle between Patrick Lewis and something called a Lemuel Jeanpierre at center. All three played significant snaps last season.

(Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

Another factor to consider is health. A season ending, or even hindering, injury is not beyond the realm of the possible for a running back entering his ninth season in the NFL. Lynch is generally considered durable, having not missed a game the past three seasons, but he does occasionally lose portions of games with nagging back tightness. Although it is impossible to predict injuries, the fact that Lynch seems predisposed to soft tissue problems in a critical muscle group is something to consider.

Overall Threat Level: Low.

Ultimately, I don’t believe Marshawn Lynch will fall from the NFL elite this season. Seattle’s well-respected sports science and training staff can mitigate his back issues. Additionally, the coaches seem to manage Lynch’s workload well throughout the season – he had nine games with less than 20 carries last year. Furthermore, the losses along the offensive line are a bit overstated as Max Unger only played in six games last year and Carpenter is a replacement level guard with a history of weight and injury issues.

I believe he puts forth one more Beast Mode season and then saunters off to do whatever it is Marshawn Lynch does when he’s not stiff-arming his way to the end zone.

Next: Seahawks lose Jesse Williams to cancer

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