Given recent (and not-so-recent) rumors that Marshawn Lynch could retire after the season*, maybe it's a good time for a retrospective on his incredible career and whether or not he would have a legitimate chance at making the Hall of Fame if he did.
*Yes, I also highly doubt that he will retire, just like you. The more likely scenario is that he either gets released and signs with another team or works on a new deal a la Zach Miller. He has too much fun playing football to give up while he's still able to play the game.
By all accounts, Lynch would need at least two more good seasons to get real HoF consideration. Unless voters pay closer attention to his on-field ability, which I would argue is more special, unique, and elite-level-talented than 99% of NFL running backs, than they do his actual totals in comparison to other Hall of Famers, then he won't be honored for eternity in Canton. (Assuming Canton withstands the Sun engulfing the Earth in a few billion years.)
Here is Lynch's current case, or lack thereof.
Career rushing yards - 8,345
He has more career rushing yards than Hall of Fame running backs Larry Csonka, Leroy Kelly, John Henry Johnson, Floyd Little, Steve Van Buren, Hugh McElhenny, Lenny Moore, Ollie Matson, and Gale Sayers. Now, outside of Csonka and Sayers, those other guys could be former US Presidents for all I know. To play in such a different era of football, they don't provide necessary context for Lynch's Hall of Fame bid.
Players in this era with more career rushing yards than Lynch that aren't in the Hall of Fame include Jerome Bettis (four-time finalist, will likely get in eventually), Edgerrin James (a semi-finalist this year, along with Bettis), Fred Taylor (eligible next year), Corey Dillon, Warrick Dunn, Ricky Watters, Jamal Lewis (newly eligible), Tiki Barber, Eddie George, Shaun Alexander, and Ahman Green.
It's interesting to compare him against a group that includes Dillon, Watters, Lewis, Barber, Green, and Alexander, and wonder how much better he is than them, if he is at all. It's also important to note the difference between Lynch getting 2,000 more career rushing yards and 3,000 more.
At 8,345, Lynch is 39th all-time in rushing yards. At 10,345 (pretending that nothing changes with active players such as Adrian Peterson, who is at 10,190) he would be 27th all-time. There's a significant number of players with over 10,000 yards that aren't in the Hall of Fame. Active ones like Frank Gore and Steven Jackson do not seem like slam dunks for the HoF either. But at 11,345, Lynch would be ranked 17th all-time.
Then he'd be able to say that of the 16 names ahead of him, 13 are in the Hall of Fame. The other three, LaDainian Tomlinson, Bettis, and Fred Taylor, likely will be.
However, the player currently ranked 17th is Dillon, and he can make a similar case to Lynch but isn't getting much traction for the Hall. However, Dillon gained 3,721 yards and 39 touchdowns after his age 28 season. If Lynch matched that, he'd be over 12,000 yards. No eligible player with 12,000 yards isn't in the Hall of Fame. He'd have 106 rushing touchdowns, tied with Jim Brown for fifth-most all-time.
Also, Lynch is playing in an era where running backs and rushing yards are evaporating quicker than boiling water. In comparison to other players of his time, he's crushing it ...
Total 100-yard rushing games: 29. That's the 19th-most in the 2000s and he needs six more to jump into the top 10 of that category. The most 100-yard games in this century is a tie between Edgerrin and LaDainian with 47.
Total games with at least one rushing touchdown: 52. That's tied with Gore for the seventh-most in the 2000s. Alexander is second with 66. Tomlinson has an unattainable lead though, at 92.
Total 1,000-yard seasons: 5. In the next game or two, Lynch should become the 27th player to have six career 1,000 yard seasons. He has as many 1,000-yard seasons as OJ Simpson, John Riggins, and Jim Taylor. Terrell Davis only had four 1,000-yarders and Marcus Allen only had three.
Total seasons with 10 rushing touchdowns: 3. With one more touchdown, Lynch will have his fourth-straight season with at least 10 rushing touchdowns and 21 other players can claim at least that many. If he did it again next year, he'd be the 15th player to have five such seasons. There are some players with five that likely won't get in the Hall (Alexander, Michael Turner, Dillon) but the others are all Hall of Famers and nobody with six such seasons isn't a Hall of Famer or soon to be.
Total rushing yards since 2011: 5,007, most in the NFL. Though it's fair to say that Adrian Peterson would have more if it weren't for injuries and other well-publicized incidents, at the end of the day he doesn't. And even still, Lynch is still one of the two most dominating running backs of the last five years.
He also hasn't suffered the same letdowns in terms of injury or inconsistency as LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, and Matt Forte. And then there's Gore, a player that the 49ers have been so careful with in his career that he's averaged just 73.5 rushing yards per game since 2007 because of limited carries. Gore rushed 312 times for 1,696 yards way back in 2006, but since then has averaged just 241 carries per season. Probably the smartest move for the team, but it doesn't lend itself to those peak seasons that people tend to remember.
"Hey remember that time Frank Gore rushed for 1,128 yards in a season?" said nobody.
Total rushing touchdowns since 2011: 44, most in the NFL. This one even Peterson may not be able to catch, and AD is second most 34 rushing touchdowns since '11. Peterson has played in 16 fewer games, so 10 touchdowns is certainly doable but not a given. And again, that's how big Lynch's lead is on the rest of the NFL. Some other notable names include McCoy (32), Foster (33), Gore (27), Jamaal Charles (25), Forte (22).
Since entering the league in 2007, Lynch's 67 rushing touchdowns ranks second in the NFL behind Peterson's 86. His 8,345 rushing yards ranks fourth behind Peterson, Gore, and Chris Johnson. (Gore, Lynch, and Johnson are separated by just 31 rushing yards.)
I think it's fair to say that in terms of everything a player can do on a field, Adrian Peterson is the best running back of the last five years and Lynch is a no-brainer for second-best. When you account for accountability and reliability and what's actually happened in the last five years, Lynch has a strong case as the best running back of his era.
Fumbles - Lynch's fumble totals are comparable to other players of his ilk; never really that terrible or that great. However, this season he has only one fumble, which could end up being the best year of ball security in his career. (Yeah, I know, Jinx.)
Receiving - You can't really be too dismissive of receiving totals for running backs in this era. While Lynch isn't the kind of outside player that Forte or Le'Veon Bell are, he's not Alfred Morris or LeGarrette Blount either. Lynch has averaged 26 catches and 203 yards per season, and he's usually stayed right around those numbers. And if the team designed more passes for Lynch, I don't see any reason as to why he wouldn't be successful at it, but he's just so dangerous between the tackles that it makes more sense to just hand him the ball.
I do think that Lynch would have a good argument for the Hall of Fame after this season. A lot of people might not understand it if they just looked at his career totals and compared him to players that were around 30 years ago, but I also think that for the last eight seasons he's been one of the best players in the NFL. There was some inconsistency in Buffalo and shortly after he arrived in Seattle, but he clearly got past that and just started focusing on doing what he's best at doing: Running the football by going straight through players.
That doesn't mean that I think he would get in, however. He probably still needs to get to the 10,000 mark to push some writers over the edge and even then, a lot won't be quick to vote for a guy who had no hesitation to express his disdain in participating in what they do. However, I've also been told by writers that got shunned by Lynch at the Super Bowl last season that of course they wouldn't take that into account if it was for a Hall of Fame vote and I tend to believe them.
Over the last four years, since BeastQuake, Lynch has been one of the top two running backs in the NFL. Is that enough to get him in or does he need to hold off on that retirement for a few more years? And even then, is he a "Hall of Famer" or just very, very good?