RENTON, Wash. – The best measurements of Marshawn Lynch’s talents have never been the traditional ones.
There is something violently beautiful about watching Lynch throw himself into defenders, time and again, like someone trying to run through a locked door. The effect that has on opponents – over the course of a game, a season, a career – is impossible to measure, but very real.
Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo once said Lynch “destroys your will to win.”
“I have never once seen him get up where he was like, ‘Damn, that guy got me,’ and it looks like he lost the battle,” former NFL defensive back and ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said. “It’s always the other guy getting got. I’m telling you, I considered myself willing to challenge anyone. But he’s one of those guys who makes you think, ‘What is the best way to go at this?’ You don’t want to be in a film session Monday going, ‘Let’s get to the play where you got your ass run over.’ And he has made so many people (be) that guy.
“Ronnie Lott was my idol as far as safeties. And Ronnie said in one of the books I have that the league is all about respect. That’s what players want: from one another, from coaches, from management, from fans. At least that’s what he wanted, that’s what the great players want. The guys who will come after Marshawn will have no other choice but to respect how that guy plays. That’s the highest compliment you can give a player.”
Lynch just finished what might be the best season of his nine-year career.
He rushed for the second-most yards of his career (1,306). He had the second-best yards-per-carry average (4.7). He set career highs in catches (37), receiving yards (367) and total touchdowns (17) despite dealing with nagging injuries. Coach Pete Carroll thinks it was Lynch’s best year.
Lynch’s season on the field has been clouded by what’s happened off it: His offseason holdout, his reported unhappiness after the midseason trade of Percy Harvin, his status with the organization next year. And yet, in Riddick’s eyes, Lynch has never played with more fortitude. He even went as far as to call Lynch a “transcendent competitor.”
“If you were writing a pro personnel scouting report on him right now,” Riddick said, “no one ever gives out the highest number on the grading scale. But he’s one of those guys that if the highest number you can give for competitiveness is a five, you’d give him a five-plus because you can’t deny it.”
So much of the appreciation for Lynch centers on the moments of high drama – the Beast Quake run against New Orleans, the sequel in Arizona earlier this season – but there is equal beauty in the mundane. Offensive lineman Lemuel Jeanpierre’s favorite run this season was in the first quarter against the Cardinals in Seattle, on a play that came and went.
Lynch took a handoff, the Cardinals blitzed and suddenly Lynch had two defenders directly in front of him, waiting. Lynch’s split-legged running style gives him his power, but it also allows him to move laterally like few other backs in the league. Staring down two Cardinals behind the line of scrimmage, he slithered laterally around both defenders before shedding a third, a linebacker, with a stiff-arm.
“It seemed like a play he should be tackled for a loss,” Jeanpierre said. “To me, on the sideline, it seemed like there were four or five guys in his face. He puts his foot in the ground and gets 8 yards.”
In the regular-season finale against the Rams, Lynch caught a pass along the sideline on third-and-8 in the fourth quarter. A defensive back rushed forward, bracing for a big collision. Instead, Lynch pulled up, shook the defensive back with a finesse move and picked up the first down.
“A guy might look for a fastball,” Jeanpierre said, “and he throws him a change-up.”
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