For the second year in a row, Marshawn Lynch's legal trouble may have resulted in a drop in his fantasy value. Last year, Lynch was reportedly going to be suspended for his hit-and-run accident last year, but was exonerated after it turned out the victim did not suffer serious injuries.
This year, however, Lynch was actually suspended for three games for pleading guilty to misdemeanor weapon charges.
That said, there's still a chance Lynch's suspension is reduced on appeal; Brandon Marshall's three-game suspension was reduced to one game prior to the 2008 season, and Marshall arguably had a worse criminal record than Lynch.
Lynch had over 1,300 total yards with nine touchdowns in 15 games last year and finished as the No. 15 running back; he would've been No. 21 if he missed three games. Chances are Lynch may only miss one game of the season, and considering he also missed a game last year, there's no reason why his value drop so much.
Lynch had just 251 rush attempts—almost five attempts per game less than in his first season—last year, but his yards per attempt increased by about a fifth of a yard from his rookie season to his sophomore season. You can argue that Lynch will have an increase in carries—with Terrell Owens now with the Bills, team will have to prepare for the passing attack as well as the rush, leaving more opportunities for Buffalo to surprise their opponents; but on the flip side, you can argue his carries will decrease—with Terrell Owens now with the Bills, Buffalo will be passing much more than last year.
Personally, I think Lynch's attempts per game will be more near his 2008 average (16.7 per game) than his 2007 average (21.5 per game).
In his rookie season, Lynch had just 18 receptions for 184 yards, but he had almost 30 more catches and 120 yards last year. Look for Lynch's role in the passing game to decline next year, as Terrell Owens should catch 80 balls, and there's not enough to go around for both of them.
Because of the immense upside and chance of a reduced suspension, Lynch is right around No. 15 in my running back rankings.
In the case that Lynch is out for significant time, Fred Jackson becomes a top-20 back in the games Lynch misses. In Week 17, when Lynch was out due to injury, Jackson stepped in and had 136 yards on 27 carries, more than five yards per carry. And in the previous two games, Jackson had a combined 17 carries for 74 yards, plus nine receptions for 94 yards and a total of two touchdowns. Jackson had double digit fantasy points in each of those final three weeks.
Even if Lynch is suspended just for Week One, Jackson provides a safe flex option week-in, week-out, good for fifty or sixty total yards each week. Worst case scenario, Jackson is a top-35 running back. He's a must-have handcuff for all Lynch owners and a solid No. 3 or 4 running back for all other owners.