How Marshawn Lynch Evolved into an Elite NFL Running Back

Tyson Langland@TysonNFLNFC West Lead WriterJanuary 23, 2014

Dec 23, 2012, Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) rushes against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Coming out of high school, Marshawn Lynch was a highly touted 4-star recruit. In 2003, the folks at Scout.com had him ranked as the 16th-best running back in the nation. During his senior season at Oakland Technical High School, Lynch amassed 1,600 yards rushing and scored 24 touchdowns.

Quality numbers like that are often hard to come by, which meant plenty of big-name college football programs should have been hot on Lynch’s trail. Surprisingly, only four schools offered the 195-pound tailback a scholarship. Of the four schools that offered him a scholarship, three of them were on the West Coast.

This was surprising based on the fact Lynch was voted a PrepStar and SuperPrep All-American. Nevertheless, all four schools of interest were reputable institutions. The most reputable was the University of California, Berkeley.

After talking to and visiting with Kansas State, Oregon and Washington State, Lynch decided to stay close to home and attend Cal. On Feb. 4, 2004, he made his enrollment official and signed his letter of intent.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

As a true freshman in 2004, Lynch saw plenty of action in 12 games for the Golden Bears, but he never garnered a start. All season long he served as the primary backup to All-American running back J.J. Arrington.

Nonetheless, Lynch proved to be a productive runner when coaches called his number on game day. The fresh-faced tailback from Oakland carried the ball 71 times, garnered 628 yards rushing and scored eight touchdowns.

After Arrington’s graduation and Lynch's impressive freshman campaign, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford made Lynch the team’s starting running back, and the Golden Bears reaped the benefits.

Despite missing two regular-season games with a hand injury, Lynch amassed 1,246 yards rushing on 196 carries and scored 10 touchdowns. He helped guide Cal to eight wins and a Las Vegas Bowl victory over Brigham Young University.


Lynch’s prosperity in 2005 was surprising to some, yet his former teammates believed he was bound for greatness the first time they stepped onto the field with him in 2004.

Bleacher Report's Ryan Riddle, Lynch's teammate at Cal, said of the running back, "It didn't take but a couple of games before I thought this was the best running back I'd ever been around. He could do it all."

Riddle was right: Lynch could do it all, and he proved that notion to be true during his junior season. At the conclusion of the 2006 season, the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year had tallied 1,356 yards rushing on 223 carries and scored 11 touchdowns.

His outstanding performances helped the Golden Bears record their second straight bowl victory.

Lynch would have been considered a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy if he returned for his senior season in 2007, but he decided to forgo his last year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. Even though the All-American running back contemplated returning to Cal, he felt it was the right time to embark upon his dream of playing in the NFL, via Cal Athletics.

"The opportunity to play in the NFL is something that I have always dreamed of," Lynch said. "Right now, it is just hitting me that my dreams are going to have the chance to come true."

On April 28, 2007, Lynch's dream came true when the Buffalo Bills selected with the 12th overall pick in the draft.

Unlike his inaugural season at Cal, Lynch didn’t have to play second fiddle to anyone. The Bills immediately inserted him into the Bills’ starting lineup, and he made an impact from the get-go. Over the course of his first season in the NFL, the 215-pound bruiser notched three 100-yard games, averaged four yards a carry and scored seven touchdowns.

Furthermore, he became the fourth rookie running back in franchise history to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.

The organization had high hopes for Lynch in his second season after an eye-opening rookie year, but the Bills offense sputtered in 2008, and his numbers stagnated. Despite being selected to the Pro Bowl, the second-year pro rushed for fewer yards and only scored one more touchdown than he did in 2007.

Yet back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons was a profound accomplishment, which is why the Bills had faith in Lynch and his ability to continuously get better.

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21:  Marshawn Lynch #23 and Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills talk during the game against the Oakland Raiders on September 21, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Unfortunately for the Bills, Lynch didn’t get any better during his tenure in Buffalo. If anything, he regressed on and off the field. In the 2009 offseason, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor weapons charges. The guilty plea didn’t sit well with commissioner Roger Goodell, so the league suspended him for the first three games of the 2009 season.

After his three-game suspension ended, Lynch found his way onto the field, but Fred Jackson eventually supplanted him in the starting lineup. Jackson went on to rush for 1,062 yards and finished the year as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 10th-best running back.

In 2010, Lynch got back his starting job after he missed some time with a sprained ankle, but his role as the team’s starter didn’t last long. On Oct. 5, 2010, Buffalo traded him to the Seattle Seahawks for two draft picks: a fourth-round pick in 2011 and a fifth-rounder in 2012.

The trade to the Seahawks ended up being exactly what the doctor ordered. In addition to scoring six touchdowns and amassing 573 yards in 12 games, Lynch resurrected his career when he helped Seattle beat the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.

In that game, he recorded one of the most enticing runs of his career. With less than four minutes left to play and a four-point lead, Lynch turned a simple three-yard run into a 67-yard touchdown ramble. Later pegged as the “Beast Quake” run for the seismic activity fans' celebrations caused, it will forever go down as one of the most memorable plays in NFL history.

After that run, it became evident that Lynch’s permanent home was now in the Pacific Northwest.

In 2011, he appeared in 15 regular-season games, rushed for 1,204 yards and set a career high in rushing touchdowns with 12. Moreover, he set a Seahawks franchise record when he scored a touchdown in 11 consecutive games.

Let’s not forget the fact that a new tradition emerged in 2011 as well. On Dec. 1, 2011, cameras spotted Lynch eating Skittles on the sideline after he scored a touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles. From that point on, fans have thrown Skittles onto the field every time he scores a touchdown at CenturyLink Field.

Skittles awarded Lynch with a two-year supply of the candy after the company caught wind of his fondness for the sweet treat, according to Darren Rovell (via Pro Football Talk).

After a 7-9 finish in 2011, the Seahawks were determined to get back to the playoffs in 2012. They knew the road wouldn’t be easy thanks in large part to the San Francisco 49ers, yet Pete Carroll’s club deployed a top-notch defense, an outstanding rookie quarterback (Russell Wilson) and a rushing attack that was continuously getting better.

Lo and behold, Seattle did make it to the playoffs in 2012, and Lynch put together the best season of his young career. At 26 years of age, he made his first All-Pro team, forced 58 missed tackles and ranked as one of the five best tailbacks in the league according to Pro Football Focus. His 1,590 yards proved to be a career high.

The Seahawks ended up losing in the divisional round of the playoffs, yet it’s apparent the team wouldn’t have even made the playoffs without Lynch and his Pro Bowl season.

As far as 2013 goes, Lynch picked up right where he left off in 2012. The 5’10” running back helped Seattle win 13 regular-season games, rushing for 1,257 yards on 301 carries and scoring 14 touchdowns total.

Additionally, he caused another earth-shattering run versus the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs. Even though the run was 36 yards shorter than his playoff run in 2010, Lynch entered “Beast Mode” for the second time and put the game away with less than three minutes left to play.

NFL Game Rewind

Lynch’s success on that particular run carried over into the NFC Championship Game. Against the 49ers, he averaged five yards a carry, broke seven tackles and garnered 83 yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. What more could the seventh-year player possibly do?

Honestly, he has pretty much done it all. The only thing “Beast Mode” hasn’t done is win a Super Bowl. On Feb. 2, 2014, Lynch will have the opportunity to help the Seahawks bring home their first Vince Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.

A Super Bowl win would put all of his other accomplishments to shame. Yes, four Pro Bowl selections and an All-Pro selection is impressive, yet winning a Super Bowl is a player’s ultimate goal in the NFL. And the Seahawks know they wouldn’t have gotten to this point without him, which is exactly why they need him to put together the best game of his career in Super Bowl XLVIII.

If he does, Seattle will etch its name in the history books, and Lynch’s legacy will no longer be viewed as an enigma.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.