I was watching the Ravens this past week, sort of in a Sunday morning stupor, and the play-by-play guy said that Rice looked like he had been shot out of a cannon. I like that. I've heard it before, but I like it because what is explosiveness if not sudden acceleration?
Later I watched some Bills-Jaguars highlights because I have taken an interest in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick could knock Buffalo out of the quarterback sweepstakes, and a game like last week's is why. I was a little snookered on tripel, but I don't think that's what made this so impressive.
Marshawn Lynch is not a moves back like Fred Jackson.
Whiskey Chainsaw suggested Lynch reminds him of Marion Barber. Barber was one of the more fun, better highlight producing backs of the last five years. He was never super quick, and he didn't juke people out of their shoes, but man does he like to initiate contact and pop defenders. That's also probably why, just 27 and having never topped 250 carries in a season, Barber looks well on his way out of the NFL.
Marshawn Lynch is not a berserker like Marion Barber.
While watching Lynch versus the Patriots, I thought quite a bit about what Lynch is. What abilities and skills define Marshawn Lynch?
Rice, Jackson and Barber are all committee backs with a few special traits, that are very valuable to their teams and have each achieved starter status, but are not three down backs. Is that important? Is it important that a player is a three down back? A lot of coaches prefer a player they can stick with, that can succeed in every formation, every down and distance and carry after carry, because it doesn't betray tendencies, run or pass, strong side or weak side, draw or play-action bomb. I don't know if that is an essential consideration. Obviously, Rice, Jackson and Barber have succeeded, and Rice and Barber's teams and offenses have succeeded. But it is a point in favor of Lynch. Lynch can do a little of everything, though I don't know a ton about his pass blocking ability, and do a little of everything well.
The very best backs are like Lynch. No one needed to spell or substitute for a young LaDainian Tomlinson or a young Marshall Faulk. I think that sense that Lynch has no limitations, not prominent weaknesses, is part of why he was and is so highly valued. He has the profile of a great back, whether he is or not. Willis McGahee had the profile of a great back too and now he's backing up Rice.
Fans of this trade have to hope there's untapped potential, and maybe there is. His skills as cutback runner, a slasher with power, could translate to a zone blocking scheme, assuming his acceleration is adequate. I am not sure it is but excited to find out. Lynch doesn't look fast. He sort of glides like Tomlinson, slashes like Edgerrin James, but he doesn't pop even on his more impressive runs. There isn't that one defining ability that stands out, and, a bit like Tomlinson and James, he doesn't fill up a highlight reel. There isn't the ooh and the aah of explosiveness, moves or pure sadistic power. There's a little bit of explosion, some subtle moves and more than enough pop to push a pile.
This was my favorite play by Lynch. You see the essential Lynch: slash right, breaks a couple ankle tackles, burst of speed, lowers the shoulder, spins, fights through three defenders and is tackled. His shoulders are square the entire run. He slows and accelerates in time with his blockers, setting up lanes and attacking when they open. But it's also a big hole, achieved against a nickel 3-3 defense, and instead of hitting fast forward like Chris Johnson, Lynch is corralled after a relatively short gain.
I don't know that Seattle needed a three down back, but they have one now. I don't know that Lynch is necessarily built for a zone blocking scheme, whatever he executed in college. I don't know that a player like Lynch has much value above and beyond a committee of complementary backs, but there is no limit to his potential like there is for Justin Forsett. Marshawn Lynch can be great, and finding out if he is will be a hell of a ride.