There’s less than a month before the 2017 season kicks off and more fantasy drafts are taking place. As we learned with two big Friday morning trades (and one suspension!), there are still plenty of changes to be made in our draft strategy. With that in mind, in our latest Player Showdown, we look at two unique running backs on the RB1/RB2 fringe. Todd Gurley and Marshawn Lynch are both being drafted in similar spots (Gurley at the 10th running back off the board, Lynch the 13th) but took very different paths to get there. Let’s take a look at who you should draft this season.
We’ll start with the veteran Lynch, who returns to the NFL after a year of “retirement.” Lynch last played for Seattle during an injury-shortened 2015 season. But during the previous four seasons he was dominant, finishing as a top-five fantasy running back in each of those campaigns. During that span he averaged 1,339 yards and 12 touchdowns per season, at 4.5 yards per carry. A case could be made that he was the best running back over that time and certainly a top one to own in fantasy leagues.
All of this made 2015 that much more disappointing for Lynch. He suffered hamstring and hernia injuries and appeared in only seven games, rushing for 417 yards and three touchdowns before unexpectedly hanging it up (literally) before the 2016 season. We thought that was the end but, much like his entire career, Lynch surprised the football universe by un-retiring this past offseason to join his hometown Raiders. Age is a concern, but when you consider that Lynch literally sat out the entire 2016 season, it does make his age-31 season appear to be less worrisome than it would for other running backs that old.
Gurley, meanwhile, is a conundrum, and his draft position will entirely hinge on which Gurley you think you’re getting. If you think you’re getting the rookie-version of Gurley, who ran for 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games, you’re very happy to make him a low-end RB1. If you think you’re drafting the sophomore-version of Gurley, you might be waiting a while for a payoff. By any metric, 2016 was a disappointment for Gurley. Sure, he finished as fantasy’s No. 15 back, but that wasn’t much consolation if you made him a top-five fantasy pick like so many did. He was extremely inefficient, finishing 30th out of 32 qualifiers in fantasy points per opportunity (carries plus pass routes) and placing near the bottom of many other metrics, including elusive rating (19th out of 25), breakaway percentage (23rd out of 25) and yards per route run (39th out of 43). He had only two games where he averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in 2016. By comparison, Lynch had two such games in his last three of 2015 before retiring. And perhaps the most interesting factoid of all: Gurley’s last 100-yard rushing game was two months after Lynch’s, despite Lynch taking a whole season off.