Option 1: Create a time machine, call a run-audible.
In all seriousness, if Marshawn Lynch had retired from the NFL as a two-time Super Bowl champion and one-time Super Bowl MVP, the "should Marshawn Lynch be in the Hall of Fame" discussion wouldn't be much of a discussion at all. But that's not how it happened.
Instead, the Seahawks legend retired with one Super Bowl ring, 11,091 yards from scrimmage, 83 all-purpose touchdowns, a reputation as one of the greatest off-field personalities in NFL history (or one of the worst, depending on who you ask), and a big fat question mark next to his Hall of Fame status. Reasonable people could very easily argue either side of the conversation when he hung up his cleats.
But now he's back.
Lynch signed two-year deal with his home town Oakland Raiders that could be worth up to $9 million if he triggers all of his performance incentives. It's going to be fun to watch, no doubt. And Beast Mode's silver and gray swan song reopens the question: What does Marhsawn Lynch have to do to make the Hall of Fame?
Let's go over the three possiblities. [divider]
"Marshawn Will NOT Make the Hall of Fame"
When Lynch sent out his retirement tweet during Super Bowl 50, opinions were somewhat divided about whether he had done enough to make the Hall of Fame. The biggest knocks against him were his lack of longevity (nine NFL seasons), his relatively unproductive early years with the Bills, and (somewhat related to the first two) his lack of statistical volume relative to the great running backs of the past.
These are valid concerns.
Fifteen of the 21 running backs currently in the Hall of Fame* played at least ten seasons as the No. 1 starter for their teams. All but four played more games than Lynch's 127. All but six had more rushing yards, all but seven had more TDs, and all but five had more first-team All Pro selections than Lynch's one. (All five also had one first team All-Pro selection.)
In fact, none of Lynch's career stats would rank among the top half of Hall of Fame running backs if he stayed retired.
Running backs in the Hall of Fame aren't the only players to consider either. A dozen Hall-eligible running backs with more career rushing yards than Lynch are still waiting to hear their names called:
Fred Taylor (11,695)
Corey Dillon (11,241)
Warrick Dunn (10,967)
Ricky Watters (10,643)
Jamal Lewis (10,607)
Thomas Jones (10,591)
Tiki Barber (10,449)
Eddie George (10,441)
Ottis Anderson (10,273)
Ricky Williams (10,009)
Clinton Portis (9,923)
Shaun Alexander (9,453)
Lynch currently has 9,112 rushing yards. If elected, he'd be only the second post-merger running back to make the Hall of Fame with fewer than 10,000 career rushing yards, after Terrell Davis. But Davis amassed his 7,607 yards, two Super Bowl rings, and three first team All-Pro nods in just 78 games with the Denver Broncos. That's insane. Lynch's game-over-game production doesn't even come close to matching Davis' at this point.
But he's back now, right? He could add to his stats and improve his Hall credentials, right? Well … maybe.
Lynch turned 31 last month. NFL running backs (even Hall of Fame running backs) become less effective after the age of 30, which Lynch started to prove in his last year in Seattle.
He played just seven games in his injury-plagued final season with the Seahawks, and while he was reasonably effective when he had the ball, he only touched it 124 times.
Take a look at his year-over-year production:
Marshawn Lynch Total Touches vs. Yards per Touch by Season
* Pro Bowl Season
+ First Team All-Pro Season
The year he took off was probably good in a lot of ways. He theoretically had time to rest and recover from the back issues that nagged him for most of his final years in Seattle. But is he fully recovered? Is he in shape? And does the fact that he's now another year past 30 outweigh the potential positives of the extra recovery time?
Even if he is healthy, Lynch will still share carries with a pair of 24-year-olds in the Oakland Raiders backfield. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard just entered their primes. You could argue this will keep him fresh. You could also argue it will prevent him from amassing the volume he will need to put himself into Hall of Fame range.
With injuries, a backfield platoon, and father time all working against him, Lynch might have a tough time improving his resume.
Resumes are one thing, but if Lynch doesn't make the Hall of Fame, the single biggest reason will be his long-standing feud with the media. The media votes on which players make the Hall of Fame. I'll let you put two and two together.
*Guys listed as running backs — not halfbacks, tailbacks, or fullbacks. [divider]
"Marshawn is Already a Hall of Famer"
Jim Dedmon/Icon Sportswire[/credit]
To watch Marshawn Lynch is to appreciate Marshawn Lynch.
The human embodiment of violence known as Beast Mode has accrued over half of his 9,112 career rushing yards after contact (5,645 to be specific). He owns the record for broken tackles in a playoff game with 15, and registered two other postseason games with at least 12 broken tackles as well. No other running back done that even once since Pro Football Focus started tracking the stat in 2007.
People talk about how a star player can "tilt the field" in his team's direction, but rare is the player who literally looks like he's running down a hill. Marshawn is that player.
The best example of this is the greatest run in Marshawn's career, Seahawks history, and perhaps NFL postseason history: Beastquake.
He broke 12 tackles in that 2012 Wildcard showdown with New Orleans. Nine came on this play. This seismic run is the embodiment of who he is as a player (crotch-grab dive into the end zone and all), and it's far from his only massive highlight (See: Beastquake 2.0). Lynch's jersey from this game is already enshrined in Canton.
In addition to the highlights (which are multiple), the single biggest thing working in Lynch's favor is his four-year stretch from 2011 to 2014. This was the era he defined the term "Beast Mode". Take a look:
|Year||Rush Att.||Rush Yds.||Rush TDs||Y/A||Rec.||Rec. Yds.||Rec. TDs||Tot. Yds.||Tot. TDs|
Only four players in NFL history have ever rushed for 1,200 yards and 11 TDs four seasons in a row: LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson, Walter Payton, and Marshawn Lynch. The other three are in the Hall.
If you add a minimum of 196 receiving yards to the above criteria, the list dwindles to just Tomlinson and Lynch.
Ultimately, if you think Lynch is already a Hall of Fame player, it's because you saw him turn two-yard losses into three-yard gains over, and over, and over again. He was a joy to watch, led his team to the first Super Bowl championship in their history, and stood out from his peers in damn near every way. What else could you want? [divider]
"Marshawn isn't a Hall of Famer… Yet."
If Marshawn helps Oakland win a Super Bowl, he's in. It almost doesn't matter what else happens — the narrative arc is too good. Hometown team, return of the prodigal son, Beast Mode moments, hopefully a one-yard touchdown, legendary. It's not out of the realm of possibility either. The Raiders have a great offensive line, young quarterback, talented receiving corps, and a very good defense — also the fourth best odds to win Super Bowl VII right now: 12-1.
If that doesn't happen, Lynch will have to pad his stats to ensure himself a bust in Canton.
How much? Well, here's a look at some of the best running backs in NFL history. Each dot represents either a Hall of Fame running back, a player ranked in the top 50 for rushing touchdowns, or a player ranked in the top 50 for career rushing yards.
Marshawn Lynch vs. the Best RBs in NFL History
(Total Yards, Total Touchdowns, HoF Status)
This graph is a lot to take in. So let's break it down a little. The easiest thing to point to in Lynch's favor is that seven Hall of Fame running backs (green dots) accrued fewer yards and touchdowns than Beast Mode in their careers.
One thing to note is that almost every Hall of Fame running back with fewer yards and touchdowns than Lynch retired before Beast Mode was born. The lone exception is Terrell Davis, who we talked about earlier. Additionally, five of the six running backs with more yards and touchdowns than Lynch played very recently.
That's actually the biggest issue this graph raises. The red dots above and to the right of the blue dot which represents Lynch are for the six running backs with more yards and more touchdowns than Lynch who still aren't in the Hall of Fame.
|Player||Career Yards||Career TDs||Retirement Year|
This is not great news. Edgerrin James' career compares extremely favorably to Marshawn's. The big thing Marshawn has going for him in this comparison is that he never played with Peyton Manning. Lynch was the best offensive player on either a playoff or Super Bowl contender every year he suited up with the Seahawks.
The absolute minimum threshold Lynch needs to reach to before he becomes a Hall of Fame "lock" is 10,000 rushing yards and 92 total touchdowns. Fourteen of the 24 hall-eligible running backs with over 10k rushing yards are in the Hall of Fame. When you add 92 total touchdowns to that 10k rushing yards, the only player not currently in the Hall of Fame is Adrian Peterson.
When you break it down like this, it's simple: if Marshawn Lynch rushes for 888+ yards and scores 8+ touchdowns in Oakland, he's a sure-fire Hall of Famer.