For a player who finished fourth at his position in fantasy points last season (224), Marshawn Lynch isn't garnering nearly enough credit this draft season.
Yes, he's the No. 6 player being selected thus far in terms of ESPN's ADP. That said, no member of the ADP top 10 has declined by as much in the past 10 days as Lynch, and examining the many sources that record ADP throughout the fantasy football industry, Lynch's stock ranges anywhere from the back end of the first round (picks 8-10) to the middle of the second (picks 14-16).
Lynch's critics have evidently come out in droves this preseason, making such wild accusations as "he has been overworked in recent years," "his holdout will adversely impact him statistically," "he'll suffer from a Super Bowl hangover" and "he reported to Seattle Seahawks camp in terrible shape."
Hogwash. Any such claim would need statistical merit to support it, and the evidence simply doesn't back up any of them.
Lynch has been overworked
Well, sure, that appears to be true, as Lynch's 901 rushing attempts the past three seasons combined lead the NFL (by 66 over Adrian Peterson). What that ignores, however, is that 901 carries over three seasons isn't an abusive workload, especially considering that Lynch never amassed more than 315 carries in those years, nor in any of his first seven seasons in the NFL. Between 1960 and 2012, there were 60 instances of a player amassing more than Lynch's 901 carries during a three-consecutive-year span; 36 of those resulted in three-year totals of 1,000 carries or more.
The production of these players historically, too, shows no evidence of wear and tear at Lynch's usage level. The following chart breaks them down into three groups: Those who tallied 976 or more carries during the three-year span, those who had between 926 and 975, and those who had between 875 and 925, which is where Lynch would reside.
And, just for curiosity's sake, let's now examine only those players from the study who were of comparable age to Lynch: Those who were entering their follow-up seasons as either 28-year-olds (which Lynch is in 2014) or 29-year-olds:
As you can see, players within Lynch's workload range scarcely suffered in terms of fantasy production, losing less than one point per game overall and less than a quarter-point among the 28- and 29-year-olds. Yes, there's a drop-off, as the chart illustrates. That said, every running back coming off a productive, full-timer's season is at risk for similar statistical regression. Consider that of the 28 running backs to amass at least 100 fantasy points in 2012, the group declined, on average, by 1.2 fantasy points per game, in 2013. To criticize the heavily worked group for such a decline is unfair considering that fact.
Lynch's holdout will adversely impact him
This can be true depending upon the circumstances: Steven Jackson (2008), Chris Johnson (2011) and Maurice Jones-Drew (2012) are three of the more notable examples of players who struggled through poor years that began with a training camp holdout. The three combined for 14 games missed, 129.3 fantasy points per man and an average of 11.4 fantasy points per game (or 183 projected to a 16-game season).
But to compare Lynch to any of these three is also unfair for an important reason: Lynch reported to camp considerably earlier than any of them, agreeing to terms with the Seahawks on July 31, 21 days earlier than Jackson, 33 days earlier than Johnson and 34 days earlier than Jones-Drew. As a result of their holdouts, none of those three appeared in a preseason game, and while Lynch might not, either, he has a chance to do so if the Seahawks wish. That's an important difference, as in Jackson's, Johnson's and Jones-Drew's examples, it was their having missed the entirety -- or vast majority, in Jackson's case -- of the preseason that hurt their prospects.
That's another reason a comprehensive list of historical holdout performance would be next to impossible. Holdout length, rationale and result can influence the results, and the sample size of holdout running backs is probably too small to judge. It's simply a less measurable phenomenon; it's not like there are preseason stats for holdouts.
If you're to press the point that Lynch's holdout is a negative for his fantasy value, you'd have at least one fair case to make: At 28 years old this season, he's older than Johnson (27), Jackson (25) or Jones-Drew (25) was at the time of his holdout. We'll see whether that matters once the games begin to count.
Lynch will suffer from the "Super Bowl hangover"
This one simply doesn't hold water. If there is any such thing as a "Super Bowl hangover," described as a player, players or entire team suffering a substantial drop-off in production in the year after a Super Bowl championship, mainly due to decreased competitive motivation, running backs don't appear to suffer from it:
Super Bowl-winning RBs, Super Bowl seasons: 12.1 FPTS/G, 15.0 G
Super Bowl-winning RBs, follow-up campaigns: 12.1 FPTS/G, 12.3 G
It's the games played total -- those the average games played by the 47 running backs in question -- that might catch your eye, but such regression isn't unexpected. After all, 127 running backs scored at least 240 fantasy points in a season from 1960-2012, and that group averaged 2.2 fewer games played in their follow-up campaigns, a decline comparable to those of the Super Bowl champions. Or, to look at it another way, the top 10 running backs by season since the turn of the millennium (2000-12, excluding 2013, as 2014 has yet to be played) averaged 2.3 fewer games played in their follow-up years. Simply put, all productive running backs are at that similar level of risk.
Perhaps some running backs suffer from this phenomenon -- Joe Morris in 1986-87, Ray Rice in 2012-13 and Roger Craig in 1989-90 -- but there's no compelling argument to apply such a blanket statement to Lynch entering 2014.
Lynch reported to camp in terrible shape
Now that'd be a fair criticism, and the most relevant one to the case ... if it could be proven to be true.
Unfortunately, what appears to have happened is that fantasy owners caught the early reports -- including one from the Aug. 5 Seattle Post-Intelligencer -- that suggested that Lynch was behind his teammates in terms of football conditioning. Well, of course Lynch was behind at the time; he had reported to camp only days earlier. And what was subsequently ignored by many was the positive comments about Lynch's conditioning in the days thereafter, such as an Aug. 10 Seattle Times report: " 'Yup, he's getting a lot closer,' said coach Pete Carroll. 'He had a very good practice [on Aug. 10]. We're just trying to do it properly. I really liked the way he got after it today. He got stuff in all phases of the practice.'"
That's not to say that Lynch's physical conditioning shouldn't be tracked in the coming days, or that he's at tip-top shape today. It's merely to say that Lynch is following a normal, expected pattern of physical improvement as the preseason progresses, and while he might be somewhat behind the rest of his team, it's not necessarily by an amount that justifies an all-out panic.
The truth is that the cumulative effect of these four criticisms seems to be deflating Lynch's draft stock, to the point he's quickly becoming a relative bargain. Marshawn Lynch as a prospective second-round pick? Yes, please.