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Looking for the next Marshawn Lynch at the NFL Draft Combine

GMs want to be with him, players want to be him.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS -- Marshawn Lynch's future is still a mystery to the Seahawks, John Schneider admitted Wednesday to a packed house of media members.

"Not yet," he replied, when asked if he'd heard an answer on whether or not Lynch plans to play in 2015. "I think everybody needs time away, especially at that position and the way he runs the ball. Time to hit the reset button. I've talked to his people a bunch, his representatives. He knows we want him to play."

But, would it shock Schneider if Beast Mode did retire?

"You know ... not really. He's a guy that kind of just beats to his own drum, he does what he wants, and he would never let you know one way or the other. A lot of great running backs have just walked away. So I have no idea."

"He's a heartbeat guy," said Schneider. "And we'd like to have it wrapped up as soon as we possibly could, just have a decision and be able to move forward."

It's no coincidence that Schneider used the NFL Combine's stage to publicly put pressure on Lynch to make a decision, because if Seattle's superstar running back does decide to hang up the cleats, the Seahawks' general manager has an up-close view of some of the potential players the team may draft to try to replace The Beast. Lucky for Seattle, and for all NFL teams, that is, this class of running backs, at its heart, is made up of a nucleus of bigger, more physical backs in Lynch's mold. An impressive 25 of the 36 running backs and fullbacks with Combine invites all weighed in at over 215 pounds.

Lynch is now among a handful of players who represent what a modern NFL running back should be -- ferocious, explosive, versatile, tough and dangerous anywhere on the field.

It makes a ton of sense, then, that Lynch's name was the most frequently cited when I asked a handful of these bigger backs which NFL player they look to model their games after the most.

Jay Ajayi, Boise State

Georgia's Todd Gurley, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordan, Northern Iowa's David Johnson, Florida's Matt Jones, Florida State's Karlos Williams, Minnesota's David Cobb, Alabama's T.J. Yeldon, and Mississippi State's Josh Robinson (to name a few) all exhibit some Beast Mode-like attributes, but Jay Ajayi, the Boise State standout, got the ball rolling on the Lynch comparison train when asked about which players he looks to emulate.

"Definitely guys like Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray, Arian Foster and Marshawn Lynch. Those are the four guys I really pattern my game around, just the style of play that they have, being complete backs and being able to be on the field all three downs. The tenacity that Marshawn runs with is something I try to put in my game as well, just fighting for every yard after contact."

It's a comparison that Lance Zierlein of made as well,  a few weeks back. "While the comparison to Marshawn Lynch might be a little much considering Lynch's exploits in the NFL," he said. "Ajayi's running style and body type are very similar to Lynch's and Ajayi features an improving stiff arm and physicality that has become Lynch's calling card."

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Josh Robinson, Mississippi State:

Ajayi is an interesting comp to Lynch, but for my money the player with the most Beast Mode in him might be Mississippi State's Josh Robinson. He alluded to that "zone" or state of mind, when he told me that, "[on the field], I'm a different animal. Every time [I] step onto the field, nothing on film can really show you what I do."

So, naturally, when I asked him which NFL player he sees in himself, he responded without hesitation.

"Beast Mode Two, you know, yeah-yeah-yeah. Coming soon!"

This was no surprise to me and ability to break tackles, to me, is one of his most defining features. How does he do it? "Relentless effort. That's all that matters. Relentless effort."

That shows up when you go to the tape. Take these three consecutive runs vs. Kentucky, for example.

In fact, in that Kentucky game last season, Robinson made one run that evoked images of Marshawn Lynch's multiple-tackle breaking runs.

"At that moment, I felt like I should take over the game," Robinson said of the specific play. "That's what I was saying right before the play happened, just take over the game. 'Be J-Rob. Do what you do.' That's not the first time I did that, I did that consistently, that was just the first time the whole world had seen it. There's going to be more to come."

It will be very interesting to me how fast Robinson runs this weekend, because long speed is one of the perceived knocks on him at the next level. If he hits in the 4.5's, I have to think his stock -- which is, by several sources, in the mid-rounds -- will jump up a couple of rounds.

Regardless, his physicality and tackle-breaking ability makes him a very intriguing player. He is a charismatic interview and doesn't lack for confidence.

"I can pass block. Key one. Catch the ball. Key two. Just doing it all around, being an all around guy. I also bring the juice to the table, you know? Bring the energy. Say our center is having a down day, I can bring the juice to him, you know, get everybody hyped up."

As for the leadership he'd bring to the next level?

"I'm going to be a young bull trying to learn the ropes, but at the same time, I'm not going to be scared to go out and lead by example. You've got to be motivated to lead, inspired to follow. That's how I feel. "

Mike Davis, South Carolina:

"I look to identify myself with Beast Mode, man," South Carolina's Mike Davis told me. "He's a great player. I like the way he runs. That angry style. I love it."

Davis is another big back with fast feet, and while he's not as much of a tackle breaker as some of his classmates, he's got a little more zuzu in his cuts than his 215-plus-pound cohorts.

Davis played through a couple of injuries in 2014 and even though his production dipped from 2013, he said coaches have given him good feedback on his ability and willingness to play through those issues.

"They understand a lot," he said. "That was one of the crazy things I experienced talking to coaches. They understand playing with injuries and why you would come out early. They already knew a lot about me before I told them. They focus a lot on how are you going to play when you are injured, are you going to sit out or are you going to go play with injuries.

Importantly, Davis also emphasized his ability to pass protect, and integral skill at the NFL level. If he can't pass protect, he'll have a hard time getting on the field.

"Of course, you know, you need to know why you're out there," he said. "If a guy blitzes, and you don't pick him up -- most likely the quarterback is going to be earning more money than the running back -- so you know, you want to be able to protect that quarterback. So, that's just a key factor. I just want to show coaches that, you know, I'm good as far as blocking schemes, and knowing where people are, and knowing where they're coming from, if I need to pick them up or not."

He said it was something he really focused on learning.

"I had a great coach in Coach Mac in Pensacola, and he taught us well, as far as 4-3, 3-4, 4-3 Over, 4-3 Under, Navajo, Bear, so he taught us a lot, so I actually learned from him."

The 4-3, 3-4, 4-3 Over, 4-3 Under, Navajo, and Bears that he mentions are different "fronts" that teams will play at the NFL level, and his understanding on reading them and knowing where pressure could come from is key.

As for his affinity with Lynch, I asked him if he'd reached out and spoken to the Seahawks' superstar.

"Naw, I've never had the chance to talk to Beast Mode," he replied, with a wry smile as he looked over the media members huddled around the table. "... have you guys been able to talk to him?"

Matt Jones, Florida:

Florida's Matt Jones is a physical specimen -- he weighed in at 6'2, 231 pounds, and if he runs well this weekend he could be getting some scouts to go back and look at his tape.

Not surprisingly, Jones had a similar refrain when I asked him on whom he looks to model his game. "I've learned a lot from a lot of people's games. I learned a lot from Marshawn Lynch, and how he runs. I learned a lot of stuff from LeSean McCoy, too. I've just learned from different kinds of backs. Put it all together."

Jones' isn't being immodest when he talks about Lynch, because of the backs that I've watched in this year's class, he is probably near the top in terms of his ability to churn his legs through arm tackles. As Lance Zeirlein put it in his scouting report on the Gator running back, Jones has "pistons for feet, chomping and churning through contact to extend [the] run."

I think that shows up a few times in the plays below.

The ability to run through arm tackles to break out into the open field is a hallmark of Jones' style, and below he finishes it with a Beast Mode-esque stiff-arm flourish.

Like Davis, Jones is heavily focused on his pass protection chops, and in the games I scouted, he regularly stonewalled oncoming defenders.

"They love (my pass pro ability)," he told me, "I take passion in it. I love blocking. That's something you do in your heart, so I love doing that."


At the end of the day, all of these Combine invites have a long, long way to go in getting onto Marshawn Lynch's level. Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon seem destined to become stars in this league, but among the early-middle rounds of the draft, there looks to be a few gems that could end up having solid, exciting careers as well. The guys listed above. David Cobb. David Johnson. Karlos Williams. T.J. Yeldon. Buck Allen. Who knows?

The numbers they post this weekend may effect their draft standing and influence which teams they ultimately end up with down the line, so it's going to be very fascinating to watch.