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Based on precedent, what can Raiders realistically expect from Marshawn Lynch this season?

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The Bay Area hype train is at all-time high for the 31-year-old back

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When Raiders’ coach Jack Del Rio posted some footage of Marshawn Lynch at OTA’s on Monday, the internet caught fire. The masses proclaimed that Beast Mode was back as a result of the clip that showed Lynch running through a hole in the defense that had parted wider than the Red Sea and eventually diving over the goal line, all in a drill which didn’t permit contact.

Sorry Raider Nation, but let’s pump the brakes.

As refreshing as it was to see Lynch back on a football field for the first time since 2015, the clip is really just an example of the the overhype that a three second video can generate during a lull in the NFL offseason.

In reality, Lynch is facing a steep uphill climb in his pursuit of returning to the kind of player he was pre-retirement. Not only has he past the 30-year-old-age-plateau-of-doom, but he hasn’t played football in a year either. To give context to the challenge he is facing, let’s examine a few other elite NFL backs who gave it a go at Lynch’s age.

1. Marshall Faulk

The Hall of Fame running back entered the 2004 season with the St. Louis Rams at 31-years-old and it was the beginning of the end for the seven time Pro Bowler’s career.

Though he started 14 games that year, Faulk only amassed 774 rushing yards while averaging a pedestrian 4.0 yards per carry. While he had racked up 10 rushing touchdowns in just 11 games the previous season, Faulk only managed three on the ground in all of 2004.

After his disappointing 2004 campaign, injuries and the emergence of Steven Jackson resulted in only one start for Faulk in 2005 en route to his eventual retirement.

Comparison

Though Lynch and Faulk have completely different running styles, their measurements are almost identical, with Lynch being one inch taller and roughly five pounds heavier.

Where the differ is their career usage rates at 31-years-old. Faulk already had 2,576 carries by the time the 2004 season rolled around, while Lynch has only accrued 2,144 thus far. The other huge difference is that Faulk was one of the most prolific pass-catching backs in NFL history, racking up 673 catches by 2004, while Lynch has only 252 catches over his career.

That’s a significant enough touch disparity to give Raiders’ fans hope that Lynch can succeed at an age where Faulk could not.

2. Emmitt Smith

Smith—another Hall of Famer—entered the 2001 season with the Dallas Cowboys at 31-years-old. He put up a respectable 1,021 yards that season on the ground, but he needed over 250 carries (261) to do it and averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. Like Faulk, rushing touchdowns for Smith were a rare sight at 31 as he only found the end zone three times.

Realistically, Smith should’ve hung up the cleats in 2000 when he reached the age of 30. Though he played four seasons after that, he never averaged over 4.0 yards per carry again and 2001 was the only season which he topped 1,000 yards rushing.

Comparison

Smith was chasing record books well into his 30’s, while Lynch is continuing his career for the people of Oakland. Well, that and millions of dollars and the chance to inch even closer to a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Their running style is much more similar than Lynch and Faulk’s. Smith was rarely used in the passing game—especially towards the end of his career—and his running style was substance over style, similar to that of Beast Mode.

Again, it’s the usage numbers that are hugely dissimilar between the two. By the time Smith was 31, he had amassed a quite frankly upsetting 3,537 carries, compared to the 2,144 for Lynch. Smith is going to need a walker sooner rather than later.

3. Adrian Peterson

‘All Day’ hardly hit the field in 2016 so this comparison might raise eyebrows, but it shouldn’t. After a dynamic season in 2015 for the former NFL MVP, Peterson tore his meniscus in 2016 and didn’t suit up for the final 13 games. Prior to the injury, however, Peterson had started the year off averaging 1.9 yards per carry with no touchdowns behind one of the NFL’s poorest offensive lines.

Whether the paltry start was due to his line or his declining play isn’t entirely clear, but one thing is: During his more youthful years, Peterson could’ve averaged over 5.0 yards per carry running behind a Pop Warner offensive line.

Raider Nation might decry the Peterson comparison as unjust, but it’s here for a reason. For one, injury—and knee injuries specifically—are always a realistic consideration for running backs with tread on their tires. We saw it with Faulk, and we’ve seen it recently with Peterson and the BroncosJamaal Charles. It happens to young running backs too of course, the road to recovery is just less treacherous.

Comparison

Peterson and Lynch have both been bruising, explosive backs over the course of their careers. They were both top-15 picks in the 2007 NFL Draft. They have both led the NFL in rushing touchdowns twice and they are both set to play for a new NFL team that looks vastly different than their last.

Their career carries aren’t that far off, with Peterson putting up 2,381 prior to last year compared to Lynch’s 2,144.

Peterson joined Faulk and Smith in the post-30 letdown club last season. Unlike those two however, he still has a chance to prove he can thrive after that dreaded age, as Lynch now does.

Conclusion

Lynch has a lot going for him heading into the 2017 season that some of these backs did not. Not only does he have less tread on his tires than the all-time greats on this list, but he will be running behind Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked offensive line.

He also lives in a different NFL than both Smith and Faulk. Rather than force-feed Lynch the ball 250+ times like the Cowboys did with Smith well into his 30s, the Raiders have adequate passing down backs in Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington who can spell Beast Mode when needed.

With the dynamic passing options at Derek Carr’s disposal, this isn’t a team that needs Lynch to Beast-Quake them to victory on a regular basis either.

Expectations for Lynch should to be tempered heading into 2017. Could he put up 1,000 yards? Yes. Double-digit touchdowns? Sure. But the three backs on this list are amongst the top ten at the position all-time and they weren’t able to rekindle much of their past glory at the age of 31, as Lynch is attempting.

At his age, and with a potentially conservative number of touches coming his way, don’t expect Beast Mode to produce the same numbers he has in years past.

Poll

Where will Lynch finish in rushing yards in 2017?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    1-3
    (110 votes)
  • 34%
    4-6
    (542 votes)
  • 32%
    7-9
    (510 votes)
  • 26%
    10+
    (413 votes)
1575 votes total Vote Now