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Spotlight: Shonn Greene

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 15th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Not every situation works out according to plan. Just because a coach proclaims something, doesn't mean it's going to happen. If it did, Tim Couch would have led the Browns to multiple Super Bowls and Blair Thomas would have broken Walter Payton's rushing record.

I mention this because it's important to dissect Shonn Greene from two angles:

  • What the coaching staff is telling people to expect
  • What we've seen with our own eyes

Sometimes coaches can be prescient, but other times they are simply putting lipstick on a pig because there's no pretty girls left in the bar. With an average draft position of 38th overall and 18th among RBs, fantasy owners are counting on a breakthrough season for Shonn Greene. And it's my supposition that the majority of that expectation is being driven by what Jets coaches and players are saying, versus anything Shonn Greene has showed us on the field.

Shonn Greene is going to get every opportunity to be a workhorse in 2011
Rex Ryan has said, repeatedly, that Greene will be the feature back this year. He's used the term "heavy dose", and made no bones about the fact he and OC Brian Schottenheimer believe it's Greene's time to shine. LaDainian Tomlinson - who kept Greene from said feature role last year - has also acknowledged that Greene will be the "bell cow" in 2011, and Tomlinson had expressed a desire to transition to a true 3rd down role with an aim to catch 50 or more receptions.

The Jets profile as a team that will run the ball a ton
The coaches want Greene to get the majority of the carries, and importantly the Jets want to run the ball with impunity. New York was 2nd in rushing attempts (534) and 4th in rushing yards (2,374) last year, and this season should be no different - if Greene is up to snuff. Mark Sanchez has been a "gamer" but he's not yet displayed the skill set that would argue for an increasing emphasis on the passing game; and the Jets stifling defense should allow the team to focus on grinding out the clock, and controlling the line of scrimmage.

So simple math tells us that:

Large number of team rushing attempts
X Majority of the workload
Breakout fantasy season

In the immortal words of Lee Corso...not so fast my friend!

While Greene will clearly have the OPPORTUNITY to flourish, we still don't know if he has the ABILITY.

How many career carries do we need to see before we can definitely rule on a player's running prowess? For Shonn Greene enthusiasts, the answer better be more than 293. Some of you are wondering why I'm being so harsh. After all, Greene's career numbers look decent enough on the surface:

  • 293 rushes
  • 1,306 yards rushing
  • 4.5 yards per rush

Fantasy owners would be delighted if Greene gave them 1,300+ rushing yards this season, wouldn't they? So why am I sounding so dismissive? I'll give you four reasons:

Reason #1 - Four Career Rushing TDs
Greene has just four rushing TDs in 293 career carries, which as you can imagine is dismal. The Jets have scored 35 rushing TDs in the last two years, so it's not a case of the offensive line not opening holes near the goal line. LaDainian Tomlinson and Thomas Jones haven't had trouble getting into the end zone, but the coaches haven't trusted Greene - in spite of his 6'0", 227 pound frame, with that role. Maybe it's simply a function of deferring to the veteran RBs, but I can't look at a 1.4% TD rate without raising an eyebrow.

In the last two seasons, 50 running backs have had at least 200 combined carries. Greene ranks an abysmal 48th among them in TD%.

Rank First Last Rush TDs TD%
1 Willis McGahee 208 17 8.2%
2 Mike Tolbert 206 12 5.8%
3 BenJarvus Green-Ellis 253 13 5.1%
4 Adrian Peterson 596 30 5.0%
5 Arian Foster 378 19 5.0%
6 Tim Hightower 292 13 4.5%
7 Michael Turner 511 22 4.3%
8 Peyton Hillis 282 12 4.3%
9 Joseph Addai 335 14 4.2%
10 LaDainian Tomlinson 441 18 4.1%
11 Laurence Maroney 228 9 3.9%
12 Michael Bush 279 11 3.9%
13 Ryan Grant 289 11 3.8%
14 Ronnie Brown 347 13 3.7%
15 Chris Johnson 669 25 3.7%
16 Rashard Mendenhall 562 20 3.6%
17 Brandon Jacobs 367 13 3.5%
18 Pierre Thomas 228 8 3.5%
19 Ahmad Bradshaw 436 15 3.4%
20 Marion Barber 324 11 3.4%
21 Thomas Jones 574 19 3.3%
22 Maurice Jones-Drew 610 20 3.3%
23 Chris Wells 292 9 3.1%
24 LeSean McCoy 360 11 3.1%
25 Ricky Williams 394 12 3.0%
26 Jonathan Stewart 398 12 3.0%
27 Frank Gore 432 13 3.0%
28 LeGarrette Blount 200 6 3.0%
29 Jamaal Charles 417 12 2.9%
30 Knowshon Moreno 428 12 2.8%
31 DeAngelo Williams 303 8 2.6%
32 Jason Snelling 229 6 2.6%
33 Justin Forsett 233 6 2.6%
34 Marshawn Lynch 321 8 2.5%
35 Darren McFadden 323 8 2.5%
36 Donald Brown 208 5 2.4%
37 Mike Bell 218 5 2.3%
38 Jerome Harrison 263 6 2.3%
39 Ray Rice 560 12 2.1%
40 Cedric Benson 620 13 2.1%
41 Matt Forte 491 10 2.0%
42 Chester Taylor 202 4 2.0%
43 Cadillac Williams 333 6 1.8%
44 Brandon Jackson 226 4 1.8%
45 Kevin Smith 248 4 1.6%
46 Steven Jackson 654 10 1.5%
47 Fred Jackson 459 7 1.5%
48 Shonn Greene 293 4 1.4%
49 Felix Jones 301 4 1.3%
50 Julius Jones 237 2 0.8%

Reason #2 - There's No Evidence He Can Handle the Pounding
A "bell cow" to use Tomlinson's description is someone that can not only handle the physical punishment of 15-20 carries in a game, but someone that thrives on it. The best feature backs are the ones who get stronger as the game goes along, who have the strength and stamina to outlast the defensive fronts and make their market late in games. If Greene is going to justify his fantasy ADP, he needs to be one of those backs. Yet, last year he was exactly the opposite.

  • Carries 1-10 in a game = 4.38 yards per rush
  • Carries 11+ = 3.38 yards per rush

Greene broke down the more carries he was given, and there's nothing about that which screams "feature back!"

Reason #3 - Limited Receiving Ability
Greene caught ZERO balls as a rookie, so by comparison last year's 16 receptions felt like a bonanza. But the fact remains Greene is not a natural receiver, he's not gifted with an ability to make tough catches, or take an outlet pass and generate huge gains. In fantasy football, if you can't rack up receiving yards, you better be able to deliver a TON of rushing yards to make up the difference.

Reason #4 - He's Not Elusive
Greene only missed 16 tackles last season, ranking near the bottom of the RBs with at least 150+ carries. Equally disturbing was the fact that Greene generated just 2.5 yards per carry after initial contact. That may sound good, but it ranked 36th among RBs. And worse still, Greene had just 12 runs of 10+ yards, putting him 41st among runners. There was nothing about Greene's game last year that argued he could be a star if only given more touches.

Positives

  • Greene will be given the chance to be a 300+ carry feature back running behind one of the AFC's better offensive lines
  • The Jets defense should keep the team in enough close games to ensure that they won't have to abandon the ground game often, if ever
  • LaDainian Tomlinson has accepted his role as a backup and 3rd down/receiving down specialist

Negatives

  • Greene has shown no hints that he'll flourish with a heavier workload, and hasn't displayed explosiveness, elusiveness, or vision
  • Greene ranks among the NFL's worst in TD% and receiving productivity (among RBs)
  • The Jets can ill afford to stick with Greene through thick and thin given their lofty playoff aspirations

Final thoughts

Long-time Footballguys readers know that I believe the key to fantasy stardom is the combination of ability and opportunity. Greene appears to have the opportunity to be a 20+ per game back and the system and team personnel support that case. But whether he has the ability remains to be seen. So far in two years we've seen that he can't catch the ball, doesn't break long runs, tires when he gets more than 10 carries in a game, and doesn't convert many of his rushes into TDs. Does that should like someone you want to draft as your RB2?

I'll be honest, I started buying into the press clippings earlier this preseason, and figured Greene would be a 1,300-1,400 bell cow running behind that offensive line. These days a 300+ carry RB has real fantasy value, even if they don't score a ton of TDs or catch the ball. Yet, the more I look at what Greene has actually done (or hasn't done as the case may be), the less inclined I am to give the coachspeak the benefit of the doubt. I think there's just a good a chance the Jets go with a committee approach by midseason, even giving the likes of Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight opportunities, as there is that Greene suddenly explodes onto the scene as a difference maker.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

Shonn Greene so far is a guy who hasn't lived up to expectation. The Jets want to be a power football team, control the clock and play good defense but I don't think they really accomplished that last year even though they were a pretty good football team. Shonne Greene runs hard and it looks as if he's going to be the No.1 guy going into this season with the Jets but I'm a skeptic. He didn't prove that he was the guy last year when he had the chance, he let an aging LT steal the show the first half of the season and it's worth noting Greene has never played a full 16 game season. In leagues that award points for receptions, lower him even further.

MrTwo94 said:

Staff rankings = RB 20. ADP = RB22 (49 overall).

So right now you can get him way cheaper than a late second rounder. I'll probably try to nab him as cheaply as I can get him. I think even if his stock rises he'll still provide a lot of value. RBs above him (ADP) are Bradshaw, Matthews, Blount, Stewart, Moreno, Williams, and Best. Most of those guys have question marks. Blount is in a similar situation to Greene. Bradshaw is a FA, right? Matthews should be due for a great year, but Tolbert might sniper all his TDs. Stewart will be playing in a new offense w/a rookie QB. It sure looks like Moreno and Williams will be splitting carries. Everyone here loves Best, but I'd rather have Greene. The staff rankings have Ingram ahead of Greene. Not sure how I feel about that at this point. If Ingram will indeed get 250 carries then I can see that since he doesn't have LT as a possible TD vulture, but if PT, Bush, and Ivory are all there then I don't see how Ingram gets that many carries. They only ran the ball 363 times as a team (RBs) last year. In '09 they had 431 but had 371 in '08. I think Greene is more likely to have a large workload than Ingram.

Bayhawks said:

Does adding the fact that LT is a future hall of famer add credence to my point of view? Absolutely, since it demonstrates that he is definitely capable of out-playing Greene (especially when you consider that he has already out-played Greene once for the #1 RB spot). Also, since much of his Hall of Fame resume comes from his stellar receiving (ie-3rd down) ability, it's doubly important. LT has caught over 50 passes in every season he has played, except for one (including last year, when he was 31). Williams has never shown the ability to out-play Blount, including last year. Furthermore, Williams has NEVER caught over 50 passes in a season.

Flying Elvis said:

Rex Ryan seems to be tremendously adept at stroking the egos of his guys. It's impressive, frankly, and that's coming from a Pats fan. I bring it up b/c I think he did a great job last year heading into the season by calling it a competition and talking about playing the hot hand. Greene was the incumbent but that made sure he was motivated while ensuring LT didn't get his panties in a bunch being slapped w/a 3rd down back tag. Greene certainly appeared to fumble and happy feet his way to the bench early and LT was dominant, making the decision easier. I think the TD poaching was the epitome of ego stroking. Everything we would normally think was throw aside and LT took goalline touches instead of Greene.

I bring that up b/c I think Ryan is playing another ego game by calling Greene the starter. The intent is too boost him up after a poor start last year. LT seems to have bought into it and is ok w/the 3rd down back label this year. But I don't beleive we will see anything different this year. The Jets will play the hot hand and that could come from any of their 4 RBs.

My money is on a similar line from last year, with the extended vacation adding to LT's value b/c he'll be better rested. They ran him into the groung in last year's preseason b/c he had a chip on his shoulder. (Relatively speaking . . . 26 touches and lots of time on the field for a guy who was old and hadn't played much preseason ball in his career.)

I like LT's ADP much better than Greene.

Chase Stuart, FBG Staff Writer said:

Last year I was pretty low on Shonn Greene, predicting just 1,041 yards from scrimmage and 8 touchdowns. He obviously failed to even meet those low numbers, coming in at 886/2.

I want to like Greene this year, but I'm not sure there's a lot of upside here. The Jets ranked 2nd in rush attempts and 4th in rushing yards, and this was while running an incredibly high number of offensive plays (1,087). On the other hand, he really just needs to steal LT's touches to become a value pick.

It's too early to know what to make of Bilal Powell or Joe McKnight. Powell was a bit of a surprise pick, which might mean the Jets are anxious to see what he's got -- Greene was the same sort of pick. McKnight really struggled for most of last year -- a lot of it being on the mental side -- but he looked comfortable rushing for 158 yards in the last week of the season. We don't know how hard these two are working in the off-season, but it's at least possible that one of them ends up stealing touches from Greene.

As for LT -- I don't think we can expect him to come close to what he did last year. For Greene, if he can handle 320 carries, those carries are there for the taking. He fumbled twice in the first half of the first game, and Ryan had no patience for him after that. If Greene can get the confidence of the coaching staff back, he's going to be capable of a big rushing season.

But he still won't add anything at all in the receiving game, severely capping his value in PPR leagues. So buyer beware in PPR leagues, but keep an eye on the Jets in training camp. He also could be a buy high candidate; if he starts the season strong, his owner may be trying to sell high, and I think Greene could be a good value in that situation, as I think a strong start would likely carry through all year for him.

jwb said:

Having watched Greene every game for two years now, he strikes me as closer to a Lendale White / Ron Dayne type than a big-time feature back in the making. I own him in a few leagues because I really felt that after the playoffs in 2009, he was poised to be the man last year. But there's just something there that doesn't look/seem quite right. He gets bottled up and goes down a little too easy for a bruiser (like White and Dayne did).

I also think Powell will be a Rex Ryan-type player. I've gone out of my way to get Powell in leagues where I own Greene. This could be an ugly fantasy backfield, and is almost impossible to predict. On one hand, Greene could grab the job and run with it, and put up a nice 1,400 yard, 10 TD season. On the other hand, he could have a pedestrian 800 yard, 6 TD season.

I think the latter is more likely.


Shonn Greene projections

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