Commentary

Green-Ellis maintains goal-line value

Updated: March 21, 2012, 5:55 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

We've seen exactly what the value of being Tom Brady's goal-line caddie is during the past two years. Now we're about to see how that translates to the Queen City.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, fantasy darling, has signed a three-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, leaving behind a sweet gig with the New England Patriots, one in which he scored 24 TDs the past two seasons combined. It's not a bad thing to be the short-yardage option for a historically great offense, and BJGE is living proof: Over the past two seasons, he has 50 carries inside an opponent's 10-yard line; according to Stats LLC, that's sixth most in the league:

Indeed, 15 of the Law Firm's 29 career rushing scores have come from inside an opponent's 2. He is a goal-line specialist's goal-line specialist, and his fantasy value is almost certainly going to rise and fall depending on how many TDs he's able to score, because he's not a touch or yardage machine. The five men above him on the list above averaged 300 total touches from scrimmage per season; Green-Ellis averaged 216, and last year he managed a fairly paltry 3.7 yards per carry. This isn't a particularly dynamic player.

And that should be familiar to Bengals fans, because neither is Cedric Benson, the departing starter. Like Benson, Green-Ellis doesn't catch the ball, he doesn't have extreme burst and he doesn't make many tacklers miss. Unlike Benson, though, BJGE doesn't fumble. Ever. If you are playing a football simulation game and you own Green-Ellis and he fumbles, ask for your money back. In 536 career NFL touches, not only has the Law Firm not lost a fumble, he hasn't fumbled at all. I'm not trying to paint Benson as some hellacious ball-security nightmare, but some fumbles is more than no fumbles.

[+] EnlargeBenJarvus Green-Ellis
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezBenJarvus Green-Ellis should fill the same role with the Bengals that he did with the Patriots.

This change is probably good for Green-Ellis' fantasy value. Had he stayed in New England, BJGE was in danger of being squeezed out by Stevan Ridley, who looked like a better, more dynamic and frankly more powerful player by the end of last season, and possibly by Shane Vereen, who was limited by injury for most of '11. With the Bengals, Green-Ellis goes back to roughly the same role he enjoyed for most of the past two years with the Pats. He'll be the first- and second-down back more often than he isn't (unless Cincy still decides to go out and draft an early-round RB in April), he'll come off on third down unless it's third and very short, he won't catch passes, he won't fumble and he'll vulture most of the team's short scores. As you can see above, Benson got a lot of high-value carries the past two seasons for the Bengals. He simply wasn't very adept at converting them.

Bernard Scott is the other man in the backfield equation for Cincinnati, and he's a more talented player than Green-Ellis. Plus, at 5-foot-10, 198 pounds, Scott is about the same height and only about 15 pounds lighter than BJGE, which makes the notion that this is a "big back/small back" arrangement seem simplistic. The fact is, whereas Green-Ellis has been one of the most reliable players in the NFL the past two seasons, Scott has been nicked up constantly and hasn't made the big plays that his talent would seem to prescribe. Heck, Brian Leonard was the Bengals' third-down back ahead of Scott at times this past year. Swapping out Benson for Green-Ellis is a net gain for Scott; he goes back to being a deeper-league sleeper. BJGE's game isn't as versatile even as the limited Benson's, which gives Scott more of an opening to break out. I'm guessing he eclipses his career-high 125 touches from scrimmage this year, even though he's established himself as a very strong kickoff returner. But Green-Ellis certainly seems like the guy you'd rather own here, and he takes a nice rise in my current top 100 players for fantasy in '12.

As for what's left behind with the Patriots? My ranks had already assumed the Law Firm was gone, so I already had Ridley in the mix as a top-100 player. I liked what I saw from him in limited action in the second half of last year, though when he fumbled in the regular-season finale and then again in a blowout playoff win, he found Bill Belichick's doghouse very quickly. That fact, and the fact Belichick doesn't do fantasy owners favors these days by consistently using the same RBs the same ways from week to week, makes Ridley as a fantasy starter a dicey proposition. Vereen should get a look, Danny Woodhead is still around and don't be surprised if the Patriots add at least one more player to the depth chart, too.