Can You Trust A.J. Green Against Joe Haden in Fantasy Football?

A.J. Green is on fire since the last time he played Joe Haden and the Cleveland Browns, but can he conquer his nemesis and lead you to fantasy victory in Week 15?

The narrative on A.J. Green probably has less mystery to it than what music he's listening to on his Beats by Dre headphones in the headphone commercial he stars in. Since being the fourth pick overall in 2011 from the University of Georgia, Adriel Jeremiah Green has ascended to elite status as one of the top five wide receivers in the NFL, featuring a rare blend of size (6'4", 207 lbs) and speed (4.5-second 40-yard dash) that allows him to glide past defenders and catch deep passes with ease and juke corners on both short and intermediate routes as well.

Heading into the 2014 season, Green's elite status was never in question, being drafted in fantasy football drafts as the fourth wide receiver off the board and 13th player taken overall, according to his average draft position. Green certainly didn't disappoint in the season-opener at Baltimore, catching 6 passes for 131 yards, including this 77-yard juggling touchdown.

However, things turned quickly in Week 2 versus Atlanta, as Green got hurt with the start of what became something the team coined "more severe than turf toe." The injury caused Green to miss a total of four games, including the Falcons game. This injury had pushed Green out of his familiar top-five peer group, which is evident in our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, which highlight how many points a player contributes to his team's success based on scenarios all over the football field.

Green currently ranks 22nd in Reception NEP, a cumulative statistic among wide receivers, with a 71.62 Reception NEP.

Last week our Brandon Gdula investigated who was the most dangerous receiving threat in the NFL, and Green had more than a cameo in that article. He was a top five Reception NEP producer over the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Obviously this year's totals are impacted by his injury, but since his dismal three catches for 23 yards performance against nemesis Joe Haden and the Cleveland Browns in Week 10, Green is spitting hot fire in his last four games.

Green's Last Four Games: Get Out the Way!

Over the past four weeks, Green is putting up the type of numbers that make fantasy owners salivate.

OpponentReceptionsTargetsRec YardsAvg.Touchdowns
@Saints68127 21.2 1
@Texans1216121 10.1 0
@Buccaneers4857 14.3 1
Steelers1115224 20.4 1
Last 4 Games3347529 16.0 3
2014 Season*5688910 16.3 6

In terms of Net Expected Points, Green's 46.15 Reception NEP ranks second to only the even-hotter Julio Jones' 59.33 Reception NEP over the same period (thanks for ending two of my fantasy seasons Monday night by the way, Julio). The rest of the top-five wide receivers over this four week period include Calvin Johnson, Odell Beckham Jr., and Antonio Brown.

What is almost more impressive about Green over his career and this season is no exception, is how much better Green plays on the road versus at home. To be specific, Green is averaging 103.3 receiving yards a game in unfriendly confines against 63.3 receiving yards a game at home and 2.5 more catches on the road as well (6.8 per game versus 4.3 per game). Yet, Green did manage to destroy the Pittsburgh secondary last week at home with both volume and the deep ball, torching them on this 81-yard touchdown to end the third quarter.

Will Haden Continue to Be Green's Kryptonite in Week 15?

To date, Green has had elite level success in almost all scenarios. However, for some reason, one defensive back has had Green's number since his college days (including an 88-yard interception return at Florida), and that has been his Week 15 opponent, Joe Haden. Check out how Green has fared against the teams Haden has played for since his days at University of Georgia (limited only to games which Haden played in).

YearLocationResultReceptionsTargetsRec YardsAvg. Touchdowns
2008JacksonvilleL 10-495N/A91 18.2 0
2009JacksonvilleL 17-413N/A50 16.7 0
2011ClevelandW 27-171441 41.0 1
2011CincinnatiW 23-2034110 36.7 0
2012ClevelandL 24-34711135 19.3 2
2013ClevelandL 6-1771551 7.3 0
2013CincinnatiW 41-20257 3.5 0
2014CincinnatiL 3-2431023 7.7 0

As you can see from the table above, Haden and the Browns have pretty much had Green's number since the one 2012 meeting which Haden played in (he was suspended early in the season for their other 2012 meeting). Some of this reflects on his quarterback, Andy Dalton, who still heavily targeted Green in two of those three games. The other game featured several defensive and special teams touchdowns early on and Green's performance could be attributed somewhat to two words a fantasy owner hates to hear: "game flow."

The only real success Green has had versus Haden and the Browns (throwing out his first career catch as a play where the Bengals snapped the ball while the Browns were still in a defensive huddle that Green caught for a 41-yard touchdown) was a 7-catch, 135-yard, two-touchdown performance in 2012. Specifically, per RotoViz game splits, Green averages 4.29 receptions on 8.71 targets for 60.71 receiving yards, 0.57 touchdowns, and 11.64 fantasy points in his seven meetings with the Browns. Against other opponents, the averages are significantly higher, with 5.84 receptions on 9.88 targets, for 88.12 yards, 0.63 touchdowns and a 15.69 fantasy points average.

So what gives with Haden who has given up big games this year against wide receivers like Brown and T.Y. Hilton? Well, those wide receivers would fall into the smaller and quicker category. And Haden employs press coverage on Green typically, and this physicality has caused Green to suffer with timing issues with Dalton, often resulting in fewer receptions on intermediate yardage routes and less separation in general.

So when Green does catch the ball, it is typically a short gain and a quick tackle, making it hard for him to get a good rhythm going with his signal-caller.

What to Do With Green in Week 15 for Fantasy Football?

If you are considering playing Green in a daily fantasy contest, his price tag is probably higher than the rest of his peer group considering his negative history with Haden, so you should probably stay away. However, if you own Green in a fantasy football league and won your playoff game thanks to his huge Week 14 performance, you probably don't have many better options than Green on your bench. If you do, please accept this internet clap for being able to dominate a four-team league. So, if you are like the rest of us, you are starting him in your non-daily leagues.

Your next question is what to expect from Green this week? Our Week 15 projections expect Green to be the eighth-ranked fantasy wide receiver with 6 receptions for 85 yards and 0.7 touchdowns.

While this doesn't equal his recent torrid pace, it seems to reflect Green's matchup against Haden well.

Please note that as a Cleveland native, I watch the team weekly and they certainly aren't afraid to incur defensive penalties when they are beat in the secondary, which can be frustrating to you when starting a wide receiver against them. So the best you can do is temper your expectations and hope for the best and that Green will be bringing it for you again next week. Now isn't the time to get cute in your fantasy season by benching Green, who we project as a top-10 receiving option for the rest of the season.