Faceoff: Shonn Greene

July 2nd

Jeff Tefertiller: The Jet offense is one that can produce a legitimate Top 10 fantasy back. Thomas Jones finished as RB6 last season. While it is more than a bit premature to predict the same for Greene, the situation is right. The offensive line is strong blocking for the run. Jones is now in Kansas City and Leon Washington is in Seattle. They have been replaced by an over-the-hill LaDainian Tomlinson and an average rookie prospect in Joe McKnight. Neither is a major threat for Greene's carries. He is the big favorite to lead the team in carries. The Jets ran the ball a whopping 519 times last year. If he can stay healthy, and curtail the fumbles, it will be difficult for Greene not to top 300 carries. The offseason moves have paved the way for Greene to be a fantasy star this season.

One of the knocks on Greene is that he only carried the ball 109 times in the regular season, but he averaged five yards per carry. It was in the New York playoff run that the Jet coaching staff, and the rabid Jet fan base, became convinced of Greene's talent. He tore through the Bengal and Charger defenses, leading the Jets to the AFC Championship game. In the three-game playoff run, Greene ran the ball 54 times for 304 yards ... almost six yards a carry. Those doubting Greene's ability to carry the full workload should look back at the games against Cincinnati and San Diego. In the two contests, the rookie ran the ball 44 times for a total of 263 yards and two scores.

Jones only had ten receptions last year, so Greene's lack of involvement in the passing game should not be an issue. During the regular season and playoffs, the former Iowa Hawkeye carried the ball 163 times for 845 yards and four touchdowns. It would be foolish to prorate these numbers over an entire season, but any reasonable reduction in yards per carry (due to being the primary ball carrier versus coming in when defenses are tired) would still allow Greene to easily outplay his draft expectations.

With so few fantasy running back options likely to get the lion's share of the carries, Greene is a good gamble in the middle of the second round. So, what are the concerns?

  • Lack of involvement in the passing game. Greene only had four pass targets as a rookie. Many may look at the stat as a huge negative. But, Sanchez only completed eight passes to ball carriers after Leon Washington went down to injury, and three of those to fullback Tony Richardson. It would be difficult to glean much from that small of a sample with a rookie quarterback who did not check down much. In 2008 with the Iowa Hawkeyes, Greene led all backs in receptions ... with eight. Greene is inexperienced and unproven as a receiver. It is way too early to tell if catching the ball will be a strength or a weakness. Either way, expect Greene to catch at least ten or fifteen passes as Sanchez becomes more comfortable checking down.
  • Losing short yardage touches to Tomlinson. Who will be the short yardage back? It is anyone's guess. But, Tomlinson has clearly lost a step. Let's not be fooled by the 12 rushing touchdowns last year from the ex-Charger. This is the same Tomlinson that struggled mightily in the red zone last year. He had red zone 54 carries with only 15 first downs and 12 touchdowns. This led to a 2.24 average yards per carry. While it is a small sample size in comparison, Greene had five red zone carries. He converted four into first downs, with one crossing the goal line. The jury is out on the short yardage role for 2010. Greene was effective in short yardage last year and should be improved in year two.
  • Many worry about Greene in pass protection. The web site Pro Football Focus tracks the effectiveness of each player per play. They charted how each of the two Jet backs performed in protecting the passer last season. To the surprise of many, Greene outperformed Tomlinson. The veteran was terrible protecting Philip Rivers. While Greene is unproven, he is at no disadvantage to the veteran.

Jason Wood: Shonn Greene is, by most accounts, a talented young runner that the New York Jets are counting on to play a pivotal role in 2010. The 5'10", 235 pounder acquitted himself reasonably well as a rookie, rushing for 540 yards (5.0 yards per rush) in 14 games as Thomas Jones' principal backup. He really made his mark in the playoffs, rambling for 304 yards (5.6 yards per rush) and 2 TDs in three games. It was that playoff run that likely paved the way for New York to part ways with Jones, and anoint Greene a starter in his second season.

All that's well and good, unfortunately for fantasy owners, Greene's ascension has been met with such enthusiasm in fantasy circles that any value you might have gained from his promotion has been evaporated on draft day. Greene is currently being drafted 18th OVERALL and 11th among running backs. That leaves absolutely no margin for error, in my view. In order for Greene to match, much less exceed, his draft position, he'll need to put up monster numbers. Over the last five years, RB11 has averaged 194 fantasy points (in non-PPR leagues). That's going to be a very high hurdle for Greene to achieve for the following reasons:

  1. He brings next to nothing as a receiver - Greene caught a whopping ZERO passes as a rookie, and this wasn't a case of a rookie just not being used in the passing game. It's not a skill he's mastered. Remember, Greene caught just 11 passes in his college career, as well. Without receiving yards of any consequence, Greene is going to have to finish among the league leaders in rushing yards and rushing TDs to match his ADP. Which might be possible except for...
  2. LaDainian Tomlinson - Do I think Tomlinson is going to magically recapture the magic that made him a Hall of Famer for years in San Diego? Of course not. But he's reunited with Brian Schottenheimer and the Jets have given every indication that they're planning on using LT liberally. At this point of his career, he's going to be an asset as a receiver (remember LT once caught 100 receptions in a single season) and as a short yardage back (he's 2nd ALL TIME with 138 rushing scores). Even if Tomlinson "only" vultures a handful of TDs from Greene, that's going to make it very difficult for the young 2nd year back to finish as a Top 10 runner. And let's not forget the other concern...
  3. Durability - Green is a big back, but he's yet to prove he can handle a full-time workload. Remember, this is a guy that had just one monster season in college; and history hasn't been kind to one-year collegiate wonders once they get into the pros. And beyond what the statsheet tells us, look at the game tape. Greene loves to pound, but he never makes people miss. He takes hits head on, and thus is a higher than average risk to miss time especially if the coaches give him a full workload each week.

With passing numbers going through the roof and running-back-by-committee becoming the de facto approach on the ground, it's understandable why fantasy owners would be excited about a young runner who seemingly is in line for a big-time workload. But just because he's in line for a lot of touches doesn't mean he'll stay healthy enough to handle those touches for 16 games. Add to that the veteran presence of one of the best tailbacks in NFL history, and the fact that Greene is a virtual non-factor in the receiving game, and it's just way too risky to draft him in the late 1st round or early 2nd round. Turn your attention elsewhere.