This was an unusual offseason given the fact three former All-Pro running backs were available. Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch – who had been retired – were all without jobs, each landing with a new team than the one he previously played for.
Charles was the last shoe to drop, signing with the Broncos on Tuesday night. Peterson previously signed with the Saints after years with the Vikings, and Lynch came out of retirement to complete a trade from the Seahawks to the Raiders. They all believe they have plenty left in the tank despite being over 30 years old, though it remains to be seen just how capable they still are.
With all three now on rosters, let’s take a look which one will have the best 2017 season based on six factors that will affect each player.
Charles is the youngest of the bunch at 30 years old. He’s also played the fewest seasons in the NFL, coming into the league in 2008. Peterson and Lynch were both drafted in 2007, playing 123 and 127 career games respectively. Charles, on the other hand, has played just 103 games, partly due to injuries.
With running backs, age is a huge factor. Production often declines rapidly after going over the 30-year-old hill, so to speak. The closer a player is to being under 30, the more productive he’s likely to be.
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY SportsChris Humphreys
Wear and tear
Lynch has more carries than Charles – 812 more carries, to be exact – but the wear and tear on his body is far less. He’s been out of the game since 2015 with his last snap coming in the playoffs that season (Jan. 17). During that regular season, Lynch played just seven games. He battled a couple of different injuries, causing him to spend most of the year on the sideline.
Though that obviously wasn’t ideal for the Seahawks, it’ll wind up working in Lynch’s favor with the Raiders. He’s taken fewer hits the past two seasons than both Peterson and Charles despite only having relatively minor injuries.
He didn’t have a torn meniscus or torn ACL like Peterson and Charles did. Lynch comes with far fewer injury concerns than the other two veteran backs.
The Raiders run a lot of shotgun formations, which doesn’t exactly match up well with Lynch’s running style. The Saints are a pass-heavy team, so Peterson’s fit isn’t ideal, considering he’s poor in pass protection and as a receiver. Charles, however, has found himself in a perfect situation with the Broncos.
Not only does Mike McCoy’s offense predicate itself on passes to running backs and short throws, but the Broncos will be switching to a power blocking scheme – a plus for Charles.
His slashing style will benefit from the Broncos’ new blocking scheme, meshing well with his game. He’ll be able to get behind pulling guards and reach the edge, which is where he’s best.
The Broncos are the most run-heavy team of the three, but that doesn’t mean Charles’ workload will be bigger than Lynch’s or Peterson’s. That’s partly because his leash will be shorter and he won’t be the workhorse the other two will be.
Lynch, however, will absolutely be a workhorse. The Raiders are going to use him as a No. 1 back, likely giving him 20-plus carries per game. He’s also going to get the brunt of the goal-line carries, which Charles and Peterson may not.
If Lynch struggles, the Raiders are most likely to stick with him for the entire season. If Charles or Peterson don’t have success early, there are other backs – C.J. Anderson and Mark Ingram, respectively – who can step in and handle the workload.
All three running backs probably could have retired (or stayed retired) and no one would have blamed them in the slightest bit. Injuries, wear and tear, and a lack of production pushed them all to the sideline in 2016. However, the reason all of them will be on the field this season is because they have something to prove.
Peterson has the most to prove of the bunch, coming off of an absolutely abysmal season – even before his knee injury occurred. He was great in 2015, but he looked like a shell of himself last season – to the point where he generated very little interest on the open market.
Charles essentially missed the last two seasons, playing just eight games, but his past injury history causes many to temper expectations for him going forward. The fact that he’s been able to return from multiple ACLs and still play at a relatively high level is remarkable.
Lynch has the least to prove because, well, this is merely a storybook ending to his career. He’s playing for his hometown team, hoping to rejuvenate a fan base that’s in a lull due to the team’s impending move to Vegas. If he flops, no one will blame the Raiders for taking a chance. He has very little to prove. Excitement is already sky high in Oakland because of him.
The Broncos and Saints have two things in common: They both have multiple running backs who can handle 20-plus carries a game. The Raiders do not. Lynch is the only proven workhorse in Oakland, having held that role in Buffalo and Seattle. Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington are nice third-down backs, but they’ve never been No. 1 ball-carriers in the NFL.
As a result, Lynch will see more carries and more snaps than Charles and Peterson. Heck, those two may not even be their teams’ starters in Week 1. C.J. Anderson will probably be the No. 1 back going into the season for the Broncos, and it’s hard to imagine Mark Ingram succumbing to Peterson as the starter in New Orleans.
Not to mention, the Broncos also have Devontae Booker as a No. 3 back, while the Saints just drafted Alvin Kamara. Depth isn’t an issue with either of those teams, but it is for the Raiders.
Marshawn Lynch: 3
Jamaal Charles: 2
Adrian Peterson: 1
From his expected workload to the Raiders’ lack of depth to his durability, Lynch is our pick to have the best season of the three running backs. He’s going to get a bunch of touches in Oakland and figures to be the starter in Week 1. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll rack up the most yards of the three former All-Pros.