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Marshawn Lynch's 2011 campaign was not exactly short on highlights, as he rushed for 1,204 yards and 12 touchdowns, accounting for a huge percentage of his team's total offensive production. Lynch shifted into full Beast Mode around Week 5, then found a new level — some previously undiscovered mode beyond Beast Mode — when the calendar flipped to November.
For me, the signature play of his ridiculous season was this first quarter TD run against the Eagles in Week 13. Lynch plowed into a gang of would-be/should-be tacklers at the line of scrimmage, was completely engulfed by Jamar Chaney, should have been dropped for no gain ... but he somehow emerged from a massive pileup, then darted 15 yards into the end zone. Skittles time. Taste the rainbow, [expletive]s. Russell Okung provided a necessary assist on the score, wiping out a pair of Eagles defenders, but the rest was all Lynch.
And he was just getting started. On the first play of the second quarter, Lynch ran right for a 40-yard touchdown, giving Seattle a 14-0 lead. He finished with 22 carries for a season-high 148 yards — one of his six triple-digit yardage performances over the Seahawks' final nine games. Lynch was absurdly consistent last year, crossing the goal line in 11 straight games. He gashed the Niners for 107 yards and a short-range TD in Week 16, becoming the first player to run for a score against the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense.
In a nutshell, Lynch had a phenomenal season. He was playing for a contract and earned himself a nice payday ($31 million over four years). No, we can't guarantee that 2011 won't turn out to be Lynch's career year, but it's clear that he'll continue to receive a significant workload in Seattle — he averaged 24.6 carries per game after Week 8, as his team went 5-4. Lynch was the key ingredient in a relatively successful recipe. He's no great PPR asset — last year, 15 NFL running backs had more catches than he had targets (41) — but he's a bulldozer with the ball in his hands. It's not too tough to imagine him giving us another 1,000-plus yards with a useful TD total.
Lynch won't come cheap at the draft table (ADP 13.8, RB9), but he's a quality building block for a fantasy roster. If you pass on him at his early-second round ADP, then, realistically, you'll be looking at someone like Frank Gore, Doug Martin, Reggie Bush or Shonn Greene in the next round. Each of those names has risk attached, while Lynch has a perfectly secure role as an offensive centerpiece (albeit in an unspectacular offense). Leon Washington and fourth-round rookie Robert Turbin are strictly backup/handcuff/third-down options. Turbin was a monster in his final year at Utah State (1,517 rush, 6.1 YPC, 19 TDs), but his only path to fantasy value in 2012 would involve an injury to Lynch — and no one wants that, because the NFL is a more entertaining league when Marshawn is doin' work.
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll hasn't yet decided which quarterback will be handing off to Lynch this season, but we'd give the best odds to free agent acquisition Matt Flynn. He didn't quite get the eye-popping contract that many were predicting after his 480-yard, six-touchdown performance in Week 17 last season — he'll get $10 million guaranteed on a three-year deal — but Flynn is nonetheless an accurate passer capable of directing a respectable offense. He may lack the arm strength and system familiarity of incumbent QB Tarvaris Jackson, but he's been brilliant in his two NFL starts — you might recall that he nearly won a game in New England in 2010. This is a camp/preseason battle worth watching, although the winner will likely still find himself in the 18-24 range in our early position ranks.
Rookie Russell Wilson, a third-round pick out of Wisconsin, has the potential to further complicate the quarterback competition for the Seahawks. Wilson was a high-buzz QB throughout the off-season — Seattle's GM dropped a Drew Brees comparison at one point — and his passing stats from his senior year were just ludicrous. He completed 72.8 percent of his throws for the Badgers last season, posting an obscene TD-to-INT ratio of 33 to 4. He's athletic, he's poised and he's been tremendously productive. Unfortunately, at 5-foot-11, Wilson is also on the (very) small side for an NFL quarterback. That's a concern, a bias he'll always face. Still, it appears that Wilson has landed with an organization that believes in his talent, so feel free to take a flier on him in dynasty formats. He hasn't been eliminated from Seattle's QB position battle just yet.
No member of this team's receiving corps will be drafted as a fantasy starter, but that doesn't mean a top-35 wideout (or two) can't emerge from the group. Sidney Rice is still only 25 years old and two seasons removed from a 1,314-yard campaign in Minnesota, starring in a Darrell Bevell offense. But lately, injuries have been the dominant story for Rice. He's dealt with hip, knee, shoulder and (multiple) concussion issues over the past two seasons. Rice basically had to have both arms reattached at the shoulder during the off-season, which doesn't seem like a good thing. Here's his description of the procedures, via the Seattle Times...
"I knew I tore this one (right) in the beginning of training camp last year," Rice said, indicating it was his right shoulder.
"I asked them if they could look at the left one because it gave me a little problem in the back," Rice said. "They thought it was just a little tear in the back when they read the first MRI, but once Dr. (James) Andrews got in there, he saw that it was an actual 360-degree tear. I ended up having to get 11 anchors in this one, and 11 anchors in this one."
So he's a miracle of modern surgery. Rice's preseason rank (34) is slightly ahead of his ADP (101.8, WR39), but neither actually feels like the right year-end projection for this player. Rice is a guy who could finish inside the top-10 at his position based on skill, or beyond the top-60 if the injuries continue to accumulate.
Beyond Rice, Seattle's receiving hierarchy contains a few familiar names with limited upside (Ben Obomanu, Deon Butler and Mike Williams, still recovering from a late-season fractured ankle), plus a talented-enough third-year wideout who could see an uptick in targets in 2012 (Golden Tate). And then there's Doug Baldwin, an undrafted receiver entering his second NFL season, coming off an impressive rookie year (51-788-4). Baldwin caught five or more balls in five different games in 2011, and definitely deserves a look in PPR formats this season. With an ADP beyond pick No. 150, there's little risk attached. He was a reliable target in a low-yield passing game and he'll have a chance to make a value leap.
It sounds as if the Seahawks intend to run plenty of two-tight end sets with Kellen Winslow and Zach Miller, but neither player is likely to serve as much more than a bye-week coverage option for fantasy owners. Miller was a huge disappointment in his first year in Seattle, statistically speaking, as he caught only 25 balls for 233 yards and never found the end zone. Winslow delivered an empty 763 receiving yards in Tampa Bay, and he's not afraid to admit that he'll never, ever meet the expectations that many of us set for him back in the day. Here's an actual thing he said during minicamp:
"If I was healthy, which I never will be again, I would be Aaron Hernandez and (Jason) Witten together."
That's the quote you can expect to see on his plaque at the Hall of Galactic Disappointments.
Seattle's defense should be a solid option this season, as they finished among the top-10 teams last year in fewest points and yards allowed (19.7, 332.2). This group ranked fourth in the league in interceptions (22) and they scored four defensive TDs, so they were obviously a decent fantasy commodity. The IDPs to target here are DE Chris Clemons (11.0 sacks), plus safeties Earl Thomas (98 tackles) and Kam Chancellor (97 tackles). First-round DE Bruce Irvin and second-round LB Bobby Wagner might just sneak into the IDP discussion, too.
2011 team stats: 20.1 PPG (NFL rank 23), 109.8 rush YPG (21), 215.3 pass YPG (22), 24.3 yards/drive (30), 0.119 turnovers/drive (13)