Going Greene: Why You Should Give Shonn a Shot

Shonn Greene has a chance to be an effective running back from a fantasy perspective the rest of the year.

At numberFire, we do a ton of math. Heck, we have "number" right in the name. And I'll be honest, there may be no bigger fan of statistics and numbers than me (except for maybe Daryl Morey).

But no matter the amount of math we do here, no matter the numbers we crunch, fantasy football always comes down to an incredibly simple formula: Opportunity x Talent = Value.

Shonn Greene and Opportunity

It was for this reason I was all for Shonn Greene last year. It mattered not whether I thought Greene was good at American Football (I don’t), I just knew as long as he was healthy, he was going to get opportunity after opportunity to run the ball. What I realized was a crucial distinction that fantasy owners at times tend to miss – the tape on a guy is often times unimportant. It only matters what that player’s coaching staff thinks of the player. If Rex Ryan liked Greene, Rex Ryan was going to run Greene, and if Greene was going to run he was going to have chances to score fantasy points.

I think there’s an image out there showing that Greene is a bad running back, but there’s a difference between being a bad running back and a bad fantasy running back. When looking at how effective runners were last year on a per run basis, Greene had a “successful” run (adding to his team's expected points) 47.10% of the time he ran the ball. That was good for fourth-best amongst running backs with more than 200 rushes in 2012, trailing only Ahmad Bradshaw, C.J. Spiller, and Stevan Ridley. In all, Greene was fairly effective with every touch, even though he doesn't hold home run speed or ability.

Granted, Greene only added 1.06 points to the Jets’ expected return all of last year, but he finished ahead of Darren McFadden, Trent Richardson, Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush, and his current teammate Chris Johnson. His 1.06 Rushing Net Expected Points total suggests that Greene is at best a barely-above-average running back over the long term, who can be, albeit very slightly, an effective runner given touches. (For more on Net Expected Points, click here.)

Shonn Greene and the Titans

Last week was Greene’s first game with meaningful carries all year with the Titans, but he did a lot with them, going for 4.22 yards per carry. I don’t expect him to keep up that clip, but if he continues to get 8-12 carries, I see no reason why he can't be an at least marginally effective back on a carry-to-carry basis. He’s proven to be effective with his chances before, and in Tennessee with an improved offensive line (and, overall, a decent offense), I believe that Greene absolutely needs to be owned in fantasy football.

I think this is buttressed by the fact that, through eight weeks, Chris Johnson had the third-lowest expected points added per play of anyone with 70 or more carries (approximately 10 carries per game, factoring in somewhat for some teams being on bye), ahead of only Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice. Johnson also had the fifth-lowest successful rush percentage before his Week 9 breakout, ahead of only the Baltimore Bros, McFadden, and Rashard Mendenhall. Even with his Week 9 breakout, Johnson remains in the bottom 10 among running backs with 80 or more carries in successful run percentage, and bottom 15 in total Rushing Net Expected Points.

In fact, though Tennessee ranked at about average in terms of passing expected points heading into last week (15th overall through Week 8), they were 22nd through eight weeks in rushing expected points. Even a slight bump in the rushing game (i.e. cutting plays to the mostly ineffective Chris Johnson despite a monster Week 9) brings this team from somewhere slightly below average on offense to a team that might be an above average offensive team. And in real life football that could realistically mean the difference between a wild card spot and sitting at home come January.

After Week 9, wherein the Titans were finally successful running the ball, they moved from 22nd in Rushing NEP to 16th on the year. I fully expect the Titans to do what they can to make a push, and I think they are going to rely a little bit more on handing the ball to Greene, who they thought enough of to sign over the offseason, in the second half of the season.

Shonn Greene Moving Forward

Right now, Greene is owned in 48.8% of leagues, probably partially due to his lack of time during the first eight weeks of the season. But this also is probably due to the aforementioned perception of him as a bad player.

I am hesitant to use ownership numbers, as it can’t account for dead leagues, but Rashard Mendenhall, Montee Ball, Isaiah Pead, Mark Ingram, Vick Ballard, and Ahmad Bradshaw all have ownership percentages higher than Greene as of right now. I’d rather have Greene than any of those guys, not because I think Greene is great shakes, but because Greene might actually get carries this year. And unlike Montee Ball, Isaiah Pead, and Mark Ingram, Greene at least recently existed as a player who was effective running the ball.

The opportunity will be there for Greene, and with players (like myself in more than one league) scrambling for help at the running back positions – say you have Ray Rice or MJD – I see no reason why you couldn’t see a couple more 10-point games out of Greene and at least tread water. I doubt he’s going to be a fantasy playoffs difference maker, but evidence is there that he can be an effective runner, and given the Titans lack of running success this season, that should generate enough attempts for him to at least be fantasy relevant on some level.