Will BenJarvus Green-Ellis continue his scoring ways in Cincinnati?
After bursting on the scene with 1,008 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010 for the New England Patriots, BenJarvus Green-Ellis fell to earth a bit in 2011 with 667 yards but still scored 11 touchdowns. Those 24 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons are as many as LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson, and more than fantasy superstars such as Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice. (Arian Foster has the most rushing TDs over the past two seasons with 26.)
Of those 24 touchdowns in the past two seasons, 18 came from inside the 5-yard line. So there's a good chance the Law Firm won't be matching those stats now that he's moved to the Cincinnati Bengals, which hasn't had a running back reach double digits in touchdowns since Rudi Johnson scored 12 each season from 2004-06. As noted in our draft kit profile of Green-Ellis, the Patriots had 36 rushing attempts inside the 5 last season, compared to just 17 for the Bengals, so the opportunities were there in New England. And by the end of the season, the goal-line chances were practically the only thing Green-Ellis was getting. In the final six games of the regular season, he had just 45 carries for 126 yards and six touchdowns.
Interestingly, the Bengals' primary back last season, Cedric Benson, scored six touchdowns all season while posting his third straight 1,000-yard season. However, the Bengals opted not to bring him back, instead replacing him with Green-Ellis. Despite the 1,000-yard seasons, Benson was hardly anything to get excited about from a fantasy standpoint. During his tenure in Cincinnati, he would be good for 15-20 carries per game, with 50-70 rushing yards and the occasional touchdown, while doing very little receiving the ball.
Green-Ellis' game is very similar to Benson's: Mostly straight ahead with some power, not a lot of speed or elusiveness, and mostly a non-factor in the passing game. While Green-Ellis averaged 4.4 yards per carry during that 2011 breakout campaign, he was down to 3.7 last season. Meanwhile, Benson has averaged 3.8 yards per carry over the past three 1,000-yard seasons. Looking at last season's final fantasy stats, Green-Ellis finished 23rd among running backs with 138 fantasy points (ESPN standard scoring); Benson finished 24th with 137. So the net results were about the same, even if the manner in which they got their stats was somewhat different. And, in effect, the Bengals upgraded one whole fantasy point in production.
It's not out of the question to believe Green-Ellis could up put very similar stats to Benson's with similar touches, given the state of the team's offense. First off, the Bengals' rank in offensive yards was the same (20th) in both the four-win 2010 and the nine-win 2011 campaigns. In fact, the 2010 team scored more touchdowns (34-31). So even if the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green combo continues to develop, it's hard to think there will be many more scoring opportunities for Green-Ellis overall, but he appears to be the guy to finish off those goal-line chances ahead of holdover back Bernard Scott.
Speaking of Scott, there's a chance he'll get more looks than before with Green-Ellis in the fold, especially after setting career bests with 112 carries, 380 yards and three TDs last season; however, his yards per carry tumbled to 3.4, after averaging 4.6 his first two NFL campaigns. Even if he gets more carries, he doesn't appear to be a threat to steal scores. Plus, he hasn't done much catching the ball (29 receptions for 165 yards in his three-year career), although in recent years, the Bengals haven't utilized the running back in the passing game that much.
Green-Ellis knows how to finish at the goal line, and at least for now will carry a good portion of the Bengals' rushing load. Sure, scoring touchdowns will still shape his fantasy value, but if he can hold off Scott, he can get stats by sheer volume. Give him 15-18 carries a week, he'll likely get about 60 yards per game, and throw in 6-7 touchdowns, you've got a passable No. 2 running back or, optimally, very solid flex option.