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Old Dogs and New Tricks
By Alex McCarthy
The Fantasy Football Significance of the Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson Signings
With the recent signings of Adrian Peterson to the Saints and Marshawn Lynch to the Raiders, fantasy football managers who bought low on either have been breaking their arms patting themselves on the back. But is now the time to sell, or do you hold out for more? Will the two superstars return to their historical form, or has age and time away from the game robbed them of their ceiling? I’ve broken down what each has going for and against them to determine whether they’re worth buying, selling, or holding.
Projected Offensive FitMarshawn Lynch
Marshawn started his career running a traditional power scheme in Buffalo and later transitioned to a zone-blocking offense in Seattle, so the move to Oakland will represent a return to his roots in more ways than one. Lynch had his best years with the Seahawks, though, so it could be seen as slightly worrying that he is returning to an offensive scheme in which he occasionally struggled in his early years.
However, the offensive line situation he will inherit in Oakland is better by an order of magnitude than the one he left behind in Buffalo. The raw power of Lynch has never been combined with as big, strong, and mean an offensive line as that of the Raiders, and I am of the opinion that they will be a revelation together. Lynch doesn’t need particularly big gaps to make opponents pay, and the Oakland boys routinely leave opposing defenses shredded and vulnerable. They were ranked fourth last season as a unit by Pro Football Focus, and would likely have ranked higher had it not been for recurring injury problems at right tackle. It has been shown time and time again that an elite offensive line can make any scrub off the street look good (see: Murray, Latavius), so I fully expect a talent like Lynch to wreak havoc when given the opportunity.
It is also worth noting that the Raiders have an elite QB and weapons to spare in the passing game, which will spread out the defense and leave Lynch with room to run when he gets to the second level. The powerful aerial attack should also translate to numerous redzone opportunities that I expect Beast Mode to gobble up like so many Skittles, all while his lucky owners gobble up fantasy points.
Adrian is the archetype for an ideal power running back. From his days at Oklahoma to his legendary tenure as a Viking, Peterson has made a living running right at the defense and daring them to try and tackle him, juking and stiff-arming and generally making some of the world’s greatest athletes look painfully unathletic. He has been one of the greatest fantasy football running backs of all time and carried managers to untold numbers of championships. He has always been the best player on his team, the offense has always run through him, and opposing defenses have always keyed on him first, second, and third.
The primary knock on Peterson (versatility) actually arises from his utter dominance. Since offenses have always been built around him he was never really forced to learn alternative schemes or develop the weaker aspects of his game, like pass-catching or running out of the shotgun. He won’t likely be asked to do the former in New Orleans, but he will almost certainly be asked to do the latter (and probably more often than not). The Saints have also favored a zone-blocking scheme of late, which is not what Peterson is accustomed to running. Differences in formation and scheme aren’t enough reason to fade someone like AP entirely, but it is worth considering that he won’t be operating in his comfort zone.
The offensive line in New Orleans is solid but unspectacular, and is of similar quality to the group Peterson ran behind his last full season (the Saints unit was ranked twelfth last year by Pro Football Focus, while the Vikings were ranked fourteenth in 2015). Peterson will have the new pleasure of playing under one of the more creative play callers in the league, though, who will almost certainly find ways to emphasize his strengths and use him effectively. The routinely unstoppable passing attack led by Brees will also force defenses to stay honest, which is something that AP has never seen in his career and could lead to a few highlight-reel runs if the thirty-two year old hasn’t lost a step. At the end of the day the Saints are not what Peterson is used to, but that may not be the worst thing for him.
The unexpected departure of OC Bill Musgrave was due in part to disagreements with head coach Jack Del Rio, who among other things felt that Musgrave did not put enough emphasis on the run in his play calling. With new first-time OC Todd Downing at the helm and a major upgrade at the RB position, look for Oakland to up the volume of their rushing attack next season. In 2016 they ran 434 running plays, good for 11th in the league, and 195 of those went to now-Viking Latavius Murray. I believe that Lynch will receive a greater percentage of the carries than Murray did, so between that and increased overall volume I would expect to see a healthy Lynch carrying the ball between 200-250 times next year. Assuming his career YPC (yards-per-carry) of 4.2 and CPT (carries-per-touchdown) of 29, this would translate to 840-1050 yards and 6-9 TDs. It may seem a big assumption that he will perform on a level with his career average, but he has never played with an offensive line of this quality so one could feasibly argue that these estimates are actually conservative. True fantasy football greatness is not out of the question, in my humble opinion.
The Saints ran the ball 404 times last season, 133 of which went to the departed Tim Hightower and 205 to presumed-starter Mark Ingram. It is highly unlikely that Peterson will win the job outright, and I believe this backfield will become a 1A/1B committee situation, with Peterson as the latter. Based on the Saints historical tendencies and last year’s RB split, I would expect to see Peterson get anywhere from 150-200 carries. Assuming his career YPC of 4.9 and his CPT of 25, this would translate to 735-980 yards and 6-8 TDs. However, I believe that Peterson is less likely to perform on a level with his career average than Lynch is to do the same. For one thing, he is playing in an offensive system with which he is far more unfamiliar and uncomfortable than Lynch is in Oakland; for another, his performance will not be buoyed by one of the best offensive lines in the league.
I’ve got Lynch as a strong buy if you can get him for any flavor of second round pick, or even a late first in deeper leagues or if you’re one RB away from being a title contender. Buy stock in Skittles, my friends. What is Beast may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.
If your league has a Peterson truther or an excitable Saints homer, I would strike now while the iron is hot and sell for any pick in the mid-second round or better. I suspect there will be moments of greatness, but I believe that the combination of unfamiliar offensive schemes, backfield competition, and a pass-first offense will limit AP’s volume too much to make him worth his price point.
Player I’m High On
And this week’s player I’m high on is… who else, Marshawn Lynch? I’ve already outlined exactly what I love about him, so instead I’ll use this section to link to some of my favorite Marshawn moments-
The Beast Quake Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfdJqpbUPIE
Ghost Ridin’ the Whip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqMsT_2teus
He’s Just Here So He Doesn’t Get Fined: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2g2ZAhopQU8