BenJarvus Green-Ellis was a great running back for the Patriots the past two years. He scored 24 touchdowns over that span and did well killing the clock late in games since he never fumbled.
But Stevan Ridley will make fans in New England -- and Fantasy owners -- forget about Green-Ellis. The prediction here is Ridley will have a better year than Green-Ellis. Ridley is the running back to target on Draft Day.
Green-Ellis is now in Cincinnati, and he is going to start and potentially be a workhorse. But what kind of workhorse is he exactly? And how will the Bengals offense actually make him better?
Take away Green-Ellis' touchdowns, and he's really just a mediocre running back in Fantasy. He struggled to run the ball for the Patriots in 2011 at just 3.7 yards per carry on 181 carries. And he's a terrible receiver with only 26 career catches in four years.
The way to view Green-Ellis is as a direct replacement for Cedric Benson, who is now in Green Bay. Benson ran for 1,143 yards and six touchdowns on 3.8 yards per carry last year. He had 134 Fantasy points last season, which ranked No. 23 at running back (two points ahead of Green-Ellis). He also had just six games with double digits in Fantasy points, and the Bengals aren't a great running team.
Green-Ellis also is expected to share time with Bernard Scott, and he's dealt with a foot problem in training camp. Factor in four games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and Green-Ellis should remain just a plodder with little upside. He's someone you should settle for in Round 5 or later as a low-end No. 2/high-end No. 3 running back. I'd take him on the latter side.
Ridley, on the other hand, is the running back with upside. He's had a solid preseason with 34 carries for 152 yards (4.47 yards per carry) and a touchdown, and he shined as a rookie at 5.1 yards per carry with 87 attempts for 441 yards and one touchdown.
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He will also share carries with Shane Vereen, but Ridley will replace Green-Ellis as the goal-line back. Remember, that's 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He'll also prove to be a better receiver than Green-Ellis.
I consider Ridley a No. 2 Fantasy running back with upside. And I would draft him ahead of Green-Ellis in Round 5.
Sure, counting on a New England running back to be a starter is a risky proposition. You might have a better chance at hitting all six numbers of the lottery than predicting if Ridley will be consistent on a week to week basis. Recently retired Patriots left tackle Matt Light once told me even he didn't know going into each game which running back would get the majority of touches -- maybe coach Bill Belichick really does keep that to himself. But I'm confident in Ridley because his quarterback has faith in him as well.
"He's been a strong runner since the day he came in here, and he's continued to do that," Tom Brady said after Ridley had 16 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown against Tampa Bay in the third preseason game. "When he gets the opportunity, it seems like he's doing a great job, so that was great to see."
After that performance, the Boston Globe reported the running back competition between Ridley and Vereen was over. Vereen had 23 carries for 81 yards through three preseason games, and Ridley has clearly outplayed him.
Ridley is looking forward to a big year in his sophomore campaign.
"When I see green grass, I'm trying to get out of there," Ridley said. "I'm not the fastest guy in the world, but I'm trying to get as many yards as I can."
Ridley has to cure some fumbling problems that hurt him as a rookie, but the Patriots realize his talent. We will all soon see that he's a better version of Green-Ellis -- quicker to the hole, a more skilled receiver and the ability to be just as successful at the goal line.
If you want to draft Green-Ellis ahead of Ridley because he's established and you like his situation in Cincinnati, that's fine. But I'll take my chances with Ridley, even in what could be a muddled situation, because he has more upside. And I'm expecting Ridley to be the better Fantasy option this year.