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Alex Green: Fantasy Sleeper

Green Bay Packers vs St. Louis Rams

I recently wrote a contrarian article for the PFF Draft Guide that focused on my Agility Score concept and how it could be used to locate mid- and late-round sleepers. One of the players mentioned was Alex Green. Obviously, I took his name out post-draft because Alex Green no longer has an NFL future.

Except I didn’t. I still like Alex Green.

Everyone assumed the Packers would select a RB in the NFL Draft, but few foresaw Green Bay selecting two of the top-ranked prospects.

In pre-draft articles, I outlined the arguments against both Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. Lacy’s role in the Alabama timeshare is a bad sign for his NFL prospects (a theme Ryan Rouillard has taken up and expertly expanded upon). Moreover, his collegiate success rate tells us nothing about his NFL future.

Johnathan Franklin is an intriguing addition who looks good on tape, but the former UCLA star doesn’t fit into one of my draftable profiles. (This piece on Franklin is probably my most underrated RotoViz contribution and helps explain both the strengths and limitations of the Agility Score as it relates to projecting fantasy breakouts. It also helps explain why backs like Franklin tend to be overrated even though we thrill to their prospects after watching the tape. If you’ve been enjoying my other articles, this is one you ought to check out.)

So Lacy and Franklin don’t fit the profile of a future NFL star. You know who does?

 

Weight (lbs) 40 Yard Speed Score Vert Leap (in) Agility Score Adj. POE Hlt/Carry
Alex Green 225 4.45 114.8 34 11.06 55 4.74
Johnathan Franklin 205 4.49 100.9 31.5 11.20 27.5 2.86
Eddie Lacy 230 4.58 104.5 32.5 NA 25 2.65

Had he played at a higher profile university or gotten a few more collegiate carries, Green’s Speed Score of 115 would have put him on the 2011 first round periphery. His Agility Score is elite for a 225 pound back. Athletically, Green is far superior to both Franklin and Lacy. He fits the same athletic profile as players like Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte. There wasn’t a single back in the 2013 class that fit that profile.

Scouting adherents will suggest an obvious counterargument: Green isn’t a good football player. I’ve referenced Bill Connelly’s work at Football Study Hall before. His adj. POE measure is the best measure of collegiate efficiency out there. Highlight yards per carry demonstrates a runner’s ability to break off big runs, a trait which has significant predictive value for NFL success. Franklin and Lacy both had good numbers in these areas, helping explain the scouting perspectives on the two players.

Unfortunately, if you want to use collegiate performance to undermine the case for Green, you’ll fail utterly. His numbers are in a different world than the two rookies. In fact, Green’s 2010 season is one of the best in recent memory. And it shouldn’t be a huge surprise. After all, Green is a freak athlete.

Everything might have been different if Green hadn’t torn his ACL in Week 7 of the 2011 season. Recently, Green admitted that he rushed back prematurely and wasn’t 100%. Because of Adrian Peterson’s epic 2012 season, we’ve started to ignore the travails most runners experience when returning from serious injury. Consider this list of relatively young backs who struggled to even reach mediocrity in the seasons following serious injury.

2012 YPC Injury Weight Speed Score Agility PFF Run Block Rk
Alex Green 3.4 Torn ACL 225 114.8 11.06 29
Rashard Mendenhall 3.6 Torn ACL 225 119 NA 31
Mark Ingram 3.9 Myriad 215 94.4 11.75 5
Ryan Williams 2.8 Torn Patellar 212 95.5 11.12 32
Mikel Leshoure 3.7 Torn Achilles 227 105 11.22 18

The moral of the story here is that when you return from injury and run behind a terrible offensive line, you’re going to look awful. It’s worth noting how much confidence was lost in these backs. Mendenhall was not re-signed by Pittsburgh. After joining Ryan Williams with the Cardinals, the two of them watched as Arizona drafted two guys who aren’t remotely as talented. The Lions added Reggie Bush.

Of course, the Saints took the opposite approach with Mark Ingram, even though he’s the only guy here who doesn’t have the athleticism to be an NFL starter. While most of these teams favored competition, New Orleans wanted to stop inviting comparisons with the superior Chris Ivory.

I’ve written a lot about Agility Score – ignore Zac Stacy at your own peril – but it’s important to reiterate what that seems to tell us. It doesn’t tell us anything about future usage or project a back’s ability to break tackles or score touchdowns. What it does tell us, however, is important and fairly unique.

Runners with good Agility Scores tend to excel before contact, but that effect isn’t apparent in rookies. This is important to note as it relates to players like Green, Williams, and Leshoure. Even though all three players were drafted in 2011, injuries effectively made them rookies in 2012. Rookies tend to struggle before contact, a trait which fits with the logic of the overall explanation. Adjusting to the speed of the NFL game represents a steep learning curve. When you’re doing it at 70 or 80%, that difficulty is going to be multiplied.

As 2013 dawns, I expect we’ll see a completely different Alex Green, a different Ryan Williams, a different Mikel Leshoure. We may even see a different Mark Ingram. Each of these runners represents a buying opportunity.

As a fantasy owner, I only like to use bench spots on long term fliers if they possess extreme lottery ticket potential. It seems unlikely that Green has a future in Green Bay, but getting cut might be the best thing for him anyway. Add him to your watch list and be ready to pull the trigger if his situation changes. As long as he remains with the Packers, its worth remembering that a healthy Green is probably the biggest talent on the roster. His presence should be calculated into your projections for Lacy, Franklin, and Harris.

Full Disclosure: I own Mikel Leshoure, Ryan Williams, and Alex Green in the PFF Dynasty league. 

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