In New England, BenJarvus Green-Ellis made a fantasy football living off of touchdowns. In 2010, he ranked second among running backs with 13 scores, and last season, The Law Firm’s 11 touchdowns were good for 6th best.
Yet, over these two seasons, BJGE has ranked as the 15th and 24th best running back in fantasy football. And coming into 2012, many are valuing Green-Ellis as an RB2. Many believe that he’ll put up “Cedric Benson” numbers. Many see that he can be the go-to red zone back on an up-and-coming Bengals’ offense. But many, for whatever reason, fail to recognize the truth in Cincinnati: He shouldn’t be so reliable in fantasy football.
Do We Really Want Cedric Benson-like Numbers?
“Cedric Benson did it, so why can’t Green-Ellis?”
Did what, exactly? Rush for less than 4 yards per carry over the last two seasons? Score no more than 7 touchdowns as a Bengal? Rank no higher than 16th at running back in standard leagues?
Why are we striving for Cedric Benson’s numbers? In a 10-team league, you’re striving for a less than mediocre starter.
There’s one statistic that favored Cedric Benson during his time in Cincinnati: attempts. The fact is, since 2006, only two running backs have been able to crack the top-10 at the position in fantasy while receiving under 200 attempts. Cedric Benson received 200-plus in each year as the starter in Cincinnati. You need touches in order to be a reliable fantasy starter. And that’s what people are going to lean on when drafting BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Attempts, however, don’t always yield top back success. Especially when we consider Benson’s average per carry in Cincinnati, and BJGE’s average throughout his career.
In late June and early July, I would have called you stupid for thinking Green-Ellis was going to receive even close to Benson’s number of touches. But now, with an injury to Bernard Scott, BJGE has an opportunity to get up to 250 carries. Even so, is Green-Ellis worth it at the end of Round 4 when his average yards per carry in New England hovered just over 4?
Banking on Touchdowns
If The Law Firm does in fact reach 250 carries, then we’re talking 1,000-1,100 yards. He’s not going to average Jamaal Charles’ yardage, folks. In order for him to be a top-15 back, history tells us he’ll need to score double-digit touchdowns again. Do we want to bank on that?
Over the last 2 years, 20 running backs have scored double-digit touchdowns in a single season. On average, 35% of the fantasy point production from these players came from touchdowns. To put this another way, for every 100 points these players scored, 35 of them would be scored from touchdowns. That’s the equivalent of about 6 touchdowns for every 650 total yards.
But of BJGE’s total fantasy points over the last two years, 43% have come from touchdowns. To put this in perspective, Green-Ellis is scoring roughly 7 touchdowns for every 570 yards rushing and receiving.
Why is this important? Well, it shows that Green-Ellis has a much heavier reliance on touchdowns than any other top back in the NFL. I wrote this on Twitter yesterday, but relying on touchdowns in fantasy football is like trusting Kenny Britt with a camera phone. Don’t do it. There are few guys in the league that you can truly draft for touchdowns. BJGE, given his talent and situation, shouldn’t be one of them.
Cincinnati is not New England
Little do people realize, but the Patriots have actually had more rushing attempts than the Bengals over the last two seasons. And last year, in the pass-happiest season ever in the NFL, New England ran the ball just 17 times less than Cincinnati.
Yet, New England has also thrown the ball nearly 100 times more than Cincinnati over the last two years. They’ve just had more plays on offense because their defense has been so porous.
This is all relevant to the BenJarvus Green-Ellis argument because we must realize the opportunity he had in New England. While Cedric Benson received almost more red zone rushing attempts than any other running back in the NFL over the last few years, he often wasn’t been able to convert. Could it be because defensive schemes could play “run” nearly every down in a goal line situation?
I won’t say whether this is or isn’t the case, but it’s another unknown and something to think about with BJGE. Tom Brady is one of the best quarterbacks ever, and while Green-Ellis was there, Brady had some incredible red zone threats. Defenses surely have taken awareness to this.
Where to value BJGE
I know I’ve said some negative things about The Law Firm throughout this post, but he’s not completely worthless. Barring injury, he’ll be one of the 20 or so backs to receive 200+ carries this season. And he’ll get plenty of red zone opportunities in an up-and-coming offense.
My issue with Green-Ellis is that we shouldn’t value him as an RB2 in a 10 or 12 team league; he’s more of a flex play. His ceiling isn’t all that high considering history, but, to be fair, his floor isn’t very low either. He has a high reliability on touchdowns for fantasy efficiency which is frightening, and the Bengals have two other running backs in Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard that will compete more than most realize.
All in all, I won’t own Green-Ellis this season unless I see something new out of him and the Bengals in the pre-season. If he drops lower in the draft, there’s a possibility, but I like more upside in my lineup.