Matt Waldman’s RB Cut-Down No.9: Marshawn Lynch

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Running back is the most talent-dense position in the history of the league. It’s why narrowing the choice to a single player is insanity.

I’m sharing my process of finding my runner to defend the planet. The criticisms I have for these players are so minor that normally, I’d echo Jim Brown’s sentiments about rating players across eras:

I don’t deal with who’s the greatest. That’s very limited, I’m sorry to say, and I think this is an example of it. Why would anyone want to say that what Adrian has done this year isn’t what someone else did years before? It’s what you do when you do it, and it should not be compared. We don’t have to compare it. It’s unnecessary. And it’s taking something away from someone to give someone else something. You don’t have to do that. Because what Adrian is doing now doesn’t hurt anyone else who’s ever run the football.

I’m not going to look at Walter Payton and take anything away from Walter. I’m not going to look at John Riggins and take anything away from him. I’m only going to look at the positive things of each individual.

I get Brown’s point. My exercise comes from a place of love for the abilities of all of these backs. It’s not a “who is the best” ranking, it’s a “who is the best for this situation based on my needs.”

The backs I’m profiling this week are listed in the order I cut them from consideration for the starter’s role. I said before if I could do it, I’d start five backs for my team. It’s just not feasible.

Marshawn Lynch

Lynch makes this list for several of the reasons that go beyond the typical discussion about supreme athleticism. Lynch is by all accounts an amazing teammate. His skills as a team builder hold units together like glue; you may see traces of the bonding, but if you pry too much to spot the bond it breaks apart.

As great as his social skills are for a locker room and sideline, Lynch wouldn’t make this list if he wasn’t a great running back. Fans are taught to view the ideal running back athlete as Bo Jackson-Eric Dickerson-Jim Brown types that have the holy grail of size-strength-speed. There are a ton of runs in Lynch’s portfolio where he lacks the speed to finish in the same way  that backs like Adrian Peterson, Gale Sayers, Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson, Bo Jackson and Earl Campbell would have.

It doesn’t matter. Lynch has authored one of the greatest and most meaningful long touchdown runs in the history of the game and he’s had a few others that hold up to scrutiny.  Size-strength-speed is overrated.

The real athletic trinity for a back is balance-quickness-stamina. Watch some of the greatest runs of all-time and these are the three athletic components (vision is a conceptual skill) that most of these highlights have in common. Lynch’s stamina to maintain his pace and intensity from beginning to end is as good as any back that has ever played the game. It’s why he’s a great short-yardage back with more meaningful long runs than you’d expect for his lack of great speed.

If the aliens laid out the rules and then said the catch is that we can only have so many athletes on your team above “x” threshold of size-speed-strength combo, Lynch would be one of my trump cards. If Dickerson is the Secretariat of running backs, Lynch is Sea Biscuit; not classically impressive off the hoof, but loaded with the competitive temperament and clutch gene to rise to any occasion.  

Lynch is one of the rare breeds of individuals in the league. He’s steadfast about maintaining his identity and still knows how to do it without hurting the team. He’s the kind of odd bird–in the best way–that would find a way to engage and confound the aliens. He’d get in their heads. As Andy Nichols said to me on Twitter the other day, there’s good reason to believe Lynch may have been talking to the aliens for some time now.

With that in mind, it’s too bad that one of Bo Jackson’s highlight videos is the only one that has Joe Satriani’s Surfing With the Alien as its soundtrack.

Another element that puts Lynch this high on my list is that his stamina and intensity doesn’t come at the cost of putting the ball on the ground every 40-50 touches. Lynch’s fumble rate is 1 in 84 touches. Even when Lynch has fumbled in big games, he doesn’t climb into an emotional hole.

Lynch has the physical trinity of balance-quickness-stamina and the conceptual trinity of vision-focus-intensity.  It’s a six-pack of skills that I’d take to any party. Although most will probably disagree with me, I have thoughts that I short-changed Lynch a few spots.  I have to be cautious, I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan because of Lynch.

The reason Lynch isn’t my first choice is what my friend Jene Bramel said about another runner we’re all familiar with, “_____ ______ was Marshawn Lynch before Marshawn Lynch.”

Details soon.

What is the RSP Writers Project (RSPWP)?

The RSP Writers Project is a goodwill community effort among writers that is designed to spur conversation about the game. Here’s the back story for this year’s project and the directory of participating writer-built teams.

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