After retiring from the Seahawks following his age 29 season in 2015, Lynch is on pace to have one of the years ever for any NFL running back aged 32.
Coming out of retirement has proved to be a good decision for Marshawn Lynch.
Since Lynch’s decision to return to football in 2017 and play for his hometown Oakland Raiders, not only will he now get to play against his former team when the Raiders and Seahawks tangle on Sunday in London, but he’s also greatly enhanced his chances at eventually being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Not only has Lynch added to his career rushing total — he has 10,334 yards, currently ranked 28th all-time, according to Pro Football Reference — the more remarkable thing is how he’s still thriving at age 32, when most running backs have long since retired.
After sitting out the 2016 season in retirement, Lynch has 331 yards this season in his second year with the Raiders, and is on pace to rush for 1,059 yards with an average of 4.3 yards per carry — right in line with his career average.
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If Lynch hits that season total, it would be the third-most yards ever for a 32-year-old running back since the merger in 1970, and the fifth-most of any running back aged 32 or older. (For the record, John Riggins has the most yards for a running back 32 or older, rushing for 1,347 at age 34 in 1983).
Raiders coach Jon Gruden said in a conference call with Seattle media this week that after having watched Lynch’s career, in his former role as a TV analyst, he expected Lynch to continue to play well in what is now his 11th season in the NFL.
“Nothing surprising regarding his age,’’ Gruden said. “He’s as advertised. He’s one heck of a player, he’s a great teammate. I think he’s misunderstood by a lot of people, but he is a great down-to-down competitor, still as talented as any runner as there is in the league.’’
Seahawks coaches and players echoed that sentiment this week.
“He looks like he got faster,’’ said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. “When he was here, he wasn’t breaking away from people. Now it looks like he can break away from people. He looks quicker. Looks stronger. It’s going to be a dope challenge if they give him the ball a lot.
“They haven’t really been giving him the ball all that much. I don’t know if it’s because of scores or whatever but definitely know he’s going to want to run the ball against us, so we’ve got to be ready.”
Back in 2015, Lynch’s last season with the Seahawks, few would have imagined that Lynch would be playing this well three years down the road. In his final season in Seattle, a pair of injuries limited Lynch to seven games, 417 yards and a yards-per-carry average of 3.8 (in the same season that Thomas Rawls led the NFL in yards per carry at 5.6).
When Lynch retired from the Seahawks following the 2015 season, he had 9,112 career yards, which currently would rank 39th all time.
If he runs at his current pace, Lynch could finish the season with 11,062 career yards, which would rank 22nd all-time (just behind O.J. Simpson at 11,236).
All but five players who have hit or surpassed that rushing total are in the Hall of Fame, and each of the five who are not is either still playing (Frank Gore) or retired after 2006 and is still being considered (or in the case of Steven Jackson, not yet eligible).
And who knows? Maybe Lynch decides to play past this season — he signed a two-year contract with the Raiders when he decided to return in 2017 — especially with the team planning to stay in the Bay Area for the 2019 season before moving to Las Vegas.
Lynch moving up the career totals helps mitigate the one thing that some have speculated could work against him — that he’s only been an All-Pro once (2012) and finished in the top five in rushing in his career twice (2012 and 2014).
Had Lynch stayed retired, his Hall of Fame chances might have been tough.
But 11,000 or so yards, plus his postseason credentials — he has nine rushing touchdowns in the playoffs, tied for the eighth-most in NFL history — might just do it.
It’s worth noting at this point that unlike in baseball, where players are inducted representing a specific team, the Pro Football Hall of Fame merely lists every team a player played for on his bust.
In Lynch’s case, there’s no doubt that he would be most well-remembered for his Seattle career — he rushed for 6,347 yards and scored 57 of his 84 career touchdowns with the Seahawks.
And who wouldn’t want to see it happen if just for the speech itself? (Unless, of course, Lynch went the Terrell Owens route?)
Wagner thinks it’s a no-brainer Lynch should be in — for what he’s accomplished on the field, and for how he’s paved the way for players to craft their own images separate of the mainstream media.
“He kind of reminds me of an Allen Iverson type, where he changed a culture, changed the way people viewed the media, through the media,” Wagner said. “He’s himself — he’s a player that you’ll never see again in a generation.
“So I think that represents a lot. I think by the end, all said and done, he’ll have the numbers to get in, for sure.”