Do you like impressing people with knowledge you acquired on the Internet? Or maybe you’re in a deep league, like stupid deep. We’re talking 14 teams, or maybe even 18. Yeah, 18-team leagues exist. So let’s look for sleepers and waiver wire gold together, and be wrong together, and cry together.
You could argue that it would be more appropriate if we slapped the handcuff label onto Packers running back Alex Green. But the problem with that moniker is that you’re assuming Cedric Benson stays healthy and is able to lead Green Bay’s backfield all season, and therefore the only way his backup — another possibly problematic title — has any fantasy value whatsoever is if the starter is injured.
On one hand, that seems reasonable because Benson’s only missed one game over the past two seasons. On the other, it doesn’t because he’ll turn 29 in December, and he’s had 895 carries since 2009.
It also seems reasonable to believe that since James Starks is still hanging around, last year’s platoon man figures to get at least a small chunk of the touches even if Benson is the starter. But Starks isn’t healthy. Not at all.
Starks suffered a turf toe injury during the first week of the preseason, and today Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said he’s coming along slowly, but he still hasn’t practiced in over three weeks. It’s an injury that’s doing much more than just putting the Packers’ running back depth chart into a temporary state of uncertainty. Starks’ roster spot is in jeopardy, which means Green — who’s essentially still a rookie after tearing his ACL last summer — could be set to assume a greater role quickly.
It’s highly unlikely that Starks will be ready for the start of the season, meaning the Packers will be faced with a choice to either cut the 26-year-old, or put him on the physically unable to perform list. Either option will thrust Green into a larger role, because the PUP designation means a player isn’t eligible to play until Week 7.
This becomes a judgement of value, depth, and potential between Starks and Green, and who provides more of each. As Total Packers writes, the decision is tied to upside:
What this really boils down to is keeping an injury-prone guy with potential vs. a young prospect with less upside who will probably make more regular contributions on the field.
The Packers thought highly enough of Green to make him a third-round pick in 2011, which is lofty draft territory for a player at a position where the erosion is rapid and often sudden. He comes with his own unique risk too because of his injury, but we care very little about that while discussing potential deep sleepers and waiver wire gold, simply because the low price you’re paying erases the impact of any risk.
All signs are pointing to Green getting on the field, and at the very least contributing, while at the most joining a platoon situation alongside Benson. Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt told the Green Bay Press-Gazette that Green has progressed well during camp and throughout the preseason as he recovers. He’s received limited work during the Packers’ three preseason games (12 carries for 29 yards), but Van Pelt also said that Green will “absolutely” be ready to handle 5-10 touches per game next week when games start to count, which is more than enough for a deep flex play.
There’s a good chance that the Packers will use Green as part of a platoon to ease the burden on the aging Benson. But since Benson has 3,429 rushing yards over the past three years, he’ll surely receive the heavier end of that split. Not to worry, though, because there’s another way for Green to retain his sleeper value: by catching footballs.
Now, I realize that we only have apples to work with here in our comparison to the oranges, but at some point pass-catching skill is still pass-catching skill, regardless of the level. During his senior year at Hawaii, Green had 363 receiving yards on 13.4 yards per catch. Darren Sproles led the NFL in receiving yards for a running back last year, and his highest yearly total in college while at Kansas State was 287 yards. Ray Rice was behind Sproles this past year, and his highest receiving total at Rutgers was 239 yards.
There’s potential here, it’s just a matter of when it matures, and when Green grows into his upside.