Nothing is certain but death, taxes and Marshawn Lynch finishing as a top-5 fantasy football running back.
Throughout the past four seasons, Marshawn Lynch has been the only running back in the NFL to finish in the top-5 every single year. The first year of that trend, 2011, was his first full season with the Seattle Seahawks after being traded from the Buffalo Bills four games into the 2010 season. As a Seahawk, he has played in 75 of a possible 76 games. In those 75 games, Lynch has amassed 5,930 rushing yards and 54 touchdowns. He's had four straight seasons with 1200+ rushing yards and 10+ touchdowns. That's tied for the second longest streak of the sort in NFL history.
There really is no such thing as a "safe" draft pick, but Marshawn Lynch is the closest you're going to get.
Running back is arguably the most volatile position in fantasy football. The turnover rate for dominant running backs is particularly high, mostly because the position has the shortest shelf life and because offensive schemes affect running backs more-so than other fantasy positions.
Here are the top-5 finishes at running back over the last four seasons.
Arian Foster, Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy are the only other running backs that have come close to Lynch's dominance over the last four seasons. But in 2015, they all come with red, blinking warning signs. Foster is already sidelined and will most likely miss half of the 2015 season. Forte is coming off a huge fantasy year that saw him catch 102 passes, 28 more than his previous career high. The coach who made that possible, Marc Trestman, is gone and there is no chance he will replicate that receiving production. His yards per carry average dipped 0.7 points, so there are concerns that he is finally wearing down. McCoy is coming off a relatively disappointing year with the Philadelphia Eagles that saw him finish as the 12th-best running back. He now goes from one of the most productive and voluminous offenses to the Buffalo Bills, a run-first team that will have no way of threatening defenses through the passing game. McCoy can't carry that whole offense by himself and will be facing stacked boxes every week.
Looking back at history is fine and informative, but the NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" kind of league. With the exception of Lynch, last year's top running backs all have questions marks heading into 2015. I've already outlined Foster's and Forte's concerns. Le'Veon Bell would be the consensus number one pick, and probably still is, would it not be for his two-game suspension. You can overcome losing him for the first two games, but your point total will take a slight ding without him in your lineup. It also took him a while to recover from a knee injury he suffered at the end of last season, so that's also something to watch for. Demarco Murray is a bit of a polarizing 2015 prospect. He had a monster year in 2014, but needed 392 carries and 449 overall touches to do it. He won't come anywhere near those numbers in 2015, with the Eagles investing some big money in him and Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles still in the fold. He's still an RB1, but you can't expect anything close to his 2014 season.
Going by ADP, Adrian Peterson, Bell, Jamaal Charles and Eddie Lacy are the players going ahead of Lynch. Charles showed signs of slowing down towards the end of last season, and the Kansas City Chiefs are planning to give him some more rest in order to keep him fresh. No one seems to be having any reservations about drafting Peterson with the first overall pick, which is confounding to me. He missed close to an entire season in 2014 (he hasn't taken a carry in nearly a year) and has never been a factor as a pass-catcher. Lacy makes the most compelling argument against Lynch being the "safest" pick. He's in a great offense and has plenty of weekly opportunities for yards and touchdowns. Call me old-fashioned, but I'll take the established, dominant veteran in a run-first offense over the third-year running back with Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback.
When it comes to Lynch, the only thing that might hold people back is his age. This is going to be his age-29 season, which is when running backs typically start to fade. But I find it hard to be concerned about him fading from dominance when he has only missed one game in the last four and a half years and improved his yards per carry average last year by 0.5 points. There is a reason he is called "Beast Mode". I won't be the one to doubt him and you shouldn't either.
Maybe people think he's still mad about not getting the ball on the last play of the Super Bowl, and is really only back to sabotage the Seahawks' season. He did contemplate retirement, remember guys? Whatever your reservations are about Marshawn Lynch, they are overblown. If you are picking in the top half of the first round and are having doubts about spending that first pick on a player that concerns you, Lynch should be your guy. There's something to be said about consistency in fantasy football. Lynch is a consistent high-end producer and difference maker for any given week.