Boring Production in the Middle Rounds: A Shonn Greene Story
As a creature of habit, I've watched all of the 2011 games at least once, but like to go back and isolate certain players for a mental refresher (NFL Game Rewind!). Today I decided to take a look at Jets RB Shonn Greene.
To get a good handle on both ends of the spectrum I took a look at Week 6 vs. Miami in which Greene ran 21 times for only 74 yards, and Week 14 against Kansas City in which Greene rushed 24 times for 129 yards and a TD while chipping in with three catches for 58 yards. Not surprisingly, when we look at last year's defensive leaders against the run, the Dolphins finished 3rd with a yards per game average of only 95.6 while while the Chiefs were bottom 7 against the run allowing 132 yards per game.
In both games, the Jets were able to build up a big lead and Greene received 20+ touches (18+ in 9 of his 16 games in 2011 by the way). In the Week 6 Miami game, CB Darrelle Revis took a 1st quarter Matt Moore pass 100 yards to the house to set the tone for the rest of the game. In Week 14 Tyler Palko got the start for the Chiefs and did nothing to help them keep up, as the Jets built a 35-3 lead.
As you might expect, in both games Greene looked less than spectacular. The main difference? Matchup. In both contests, the majority of Greene's carries were of the 3- and 4-yard variety. However, the KC game led off with a power run in which the Jets offensive line got a good push and Greene broke a tackle for a 31-yard gain. The Jets continued to win the line play and Greene ground out another 98 yards on 23 carries with only one carry for a loss. In contrast, against Miami the Jets offensive line was not able to get a consistent push, resulting in four of Greene's 21 carries resulting in zero or negative yardage.
What's not to like: Greene as an exciting NFL player
Shonn Greene is a boring, power runner. He's not going to get to the edge of the defense with any sort of regularity. For the most part, Greene gets what he is given by his offensive line. It takes him a while to get his 225 pound body going, but once he does he's difficult to take down. Greene isn't above average in pass-catching or pass-protection, but he is improving in both those areas. Pro Football Focus actually rates Greene positively in pass blocking as a top 30 NFL RB in this category and Greene caught a career high 30 balls in 2011 (previous high was 16).
What is to like: Greene's steady production as a fantasy RB
The good news? I love boring production and there's a place for it on your fantasy roster.
What I like about Greene specifically from a fantasy perspective is that I feel his job is safe and his opportunity is increasing in a run-first offense. Greene does exactly what he's supposed to do -- picks up four yards per carry and holds on to the football (zero lost fumbles in 2011 although he did have one challenged and overturned). In 2011, LaDainian Tomlinson received 75 carries and 42 catches. Now that he's out of the picture, at least some of those touches should go to Greene. I'm not sold on Joe McKnight or Bilal Powell pushing Greene, and while I like 6th round pick Terrance Ganaway, 2012 impact is a long shot.
Oh yeah, it's a contract year too! Expect Greene to be as motivated as anyone on the field.
Also working in Greene's favor is the arrival of new OC Tony Sparano. Greene has said that his expectation is for Sparano to give him more than 253 carries, his 2011 total. Sparano favors a power, between-the-tackles running game (think Ronnie Brown) and had this to say about Greene:
“He gets his shoulders squared to the line of scrimmage, he breaks tackles and he runs at the right pad level. To me, he has all the qualities I look for.”
The downside? Greene isn't likely to all of a sudden turn into the next Jamaal Charles or Chris Johnson (pre-2011 versions). He's not going to start bouncing runs outside for 20 yard gains with regularity. Mark Sanchez is still the quarterback and defenses are going to continue stacking the box unless Sanchez makes big strides and rookie WR Stephen Hill can step in and make a significant impact. (I am not expecting that, either) Tim Tebow is also going to be in the mix to steal some goal line touches, but Greene only had six TDs in 2011, the same number as Mark Sanchez. If anything, I would argue that Tebow's presence will steal rushing TDs from Mark Sanchez, not Shonn Greene. Regardless, TDs haven't been a big part of Greene's game to this point.
Where is his Draft Day Value?
No matter how much you hate a player, there comes a point in the draft when he becomes a value. With Greene's ADP currently sitting at 5.02, I'm not rushing to grab him in the 5th. I'm looking at RBs Michael Turner and Reggie Bush in that spot first. However, if Greene falls to me in the 6th round and I'm looking RB, I will not hesitate to draft him ahead of a higher upside guy with a terrible situation like Jonathan Stewart (6.07), a huge injury risk like Jahvid Best (7.02) or a similar back with less job security like Isaac Redman (5.04).
Despite his ADP of 5.02 in 12-team drafts, in real world MyFantasyLeague drafts Greene is available at the end of the 6th round 60% of the time! (Check out our awesome ADP Draft Planner tool by clicking that really long link.)
Greene is currently our 20th-ranked RB in both standard scoring and PPR formats. If you select him in the 6th round, that means he's likely your RB3/Flex or he's your RB2 and you're stacked at WR/QB/TE. These are the perfect scenarios to grab a boring guy with good workload and job security to fill out your roster. BJGE is another similar back in similar ADP territory (6.02).
Best strategy? Buy low after a rough start!
As we noted above, Greene is primarily a matchup play, a guy who succeeds on volume and is best played against weak opponents. In fact, not including a Denver game in which Greene took a knee to the chest and did not return, his four worst games yardage wise came against top 10 run defenses. In contrast, Greene's six best 2011 yardage performances came against bottom half run defenses.
In addition, Greene didn't fade as the 2011 season wore on. Instead, he got stronger. Through the first eight games of the season, Greene averaged only 3.8 yards per carry. In the final 8 games he average 4.6. Over fantasy football's 2nd half (W9-16) Greene was the #9 RB in standard scoring formats and #11 in PPR.
If Greene doesn't fall to you in 2012 drafts, or if your draft strategy takes you elsewhere, consider trading for him after Week 4 (SF) or 5 (HOU) when his stock is sure to be at a season low. The Jets only play two top 10 RB defenses the rest of the way and draw seven games against RB defenses in the bottom half.