Marshawn Lynch got the new contract he wanted from the Seattle Seahawks. Now he’s ready to go Beast Mode all over Seattle’s opponents. The running back is coming off one of his best seasons, but has also reached that age where backs tend to decline.
That begs the question: What should we really expect from from Marshawn Lynch in 2015?
Reasons for Concern
Lynch is coming off a season that saw him get less carries than any season since 2010. That wasn’t due to a shift in the offense either. Lynch missed carries early in many games because he couldn’t get his back to loosen up. He even missed the entire first quarter of one game.
Lynch’s back is clearly getting worse. The Seahawks have managed it by giving him Wednesdays off in almost every week since he joined the team. Last season, they were forced to give him most Thursdays off as well.
His back isn’t a trial problem. He has compressed discs in his bask, which isn’t something that will get better. Lynch’s back issues will only get worse the more that he plays.
Lynch is also 29, and will turn 30 next spring. He’s had over 2000 career carries. Both of those put him over the point where we expect a running back to begin a quick decline.
Reasons for Optimism
Despite the age, miles and back issues, Lynch has shown now signs of slowing down. In fact, he’s been getting better with age. So much so, that earlier this offseason I compared him to fine scotch.
I won’t go into the full details again (click that link if you’re interested), but Lynch is become more powerful and more elusive. Lynch set career highs last season in both yards after contact per attempt and missed tackles per attempt.
Put all of those factors together, and it makes sense that Lynch will be just as effective on a per-touch basis, but only if the Seahawks find a way to limit his role slightly. The Seahawks need to find a way to keep Lynch fresh for the stretch run and the playoffs.
It feels to safe to say that if the Seahawks try and ride Lynch on a pace for 300 or more carries, that he’ll miss considerable time late in the season. If the Seahawks can keep Lynch in the 230-250 carry range, they should get the most Beast Mode while still limiting his risk.
Using that as a guideline, we can begin to figure out what we can expect from Lynch statistically. His career 4.3 yards per carry is held down by his time in Buffalo and the first two years in Seattle. Last year he averaged 4.7 yards per carry even with Seattle’s struggles along the offensive line.
With an offensive line this year that’ll be more athletic but also considerably younger, Lynch should find more success late in the season, but also have to deal with more missed blocks early in the year. Put all that together, and a yards per carry in the 4.5 – 4.7 range feels like a safe bet.
Lynch has seen in increase in his touchdowns in each of the last three seasons. He has 12 in 2012, 14 in 2013 and 17 last season. Jimmy Graham’s presence on the roster will likely reverse that trend. The 6’7″ tight end was brought in mostly because the Seahawks were desperate for a red zone threat. If Lynch loses red zone touches to Graham, his TD production will certainly dip.
Putting all of this together, it adds up to Lynch finishing somewhere in the 1100-1300 range with around 12 touchdowns. With all the other improvements the Seahawks made to their offense this offseason, If they are able to get that kind of production out of Lynch then they should be back atop the NFC West.
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