- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Consider me among the many who snickered a bit when the Tennessee Titans signed running back Shonn Greene to a three-year contract back in March, and seemed proud for doing so. There were several reasons for that. One, while it’s common practice for fantasy owners to whine about Chris Johnson, wondering why he can’t rush for 2,000 yards in a season all the time, he remains employed by the team and capable of being a top-10 running back. Two, well, it’s Shonn Greene, the former New York Jets plodder who doesn’t catch passes, doesn’t have breakaway speed and isn’t exactly Jerome Bettis at the goal line, either.
Greene is apparently healthy from his knee woes and ready to contribute, and Titans coach Mike Munchak seems committed to seeing what he can do, telling surprised reporters on Wednesday that the running back’s workload should be in the 15-carry range. OK, so that seems odd to me as well, but the coach actually said it. It doesn’t mean it will happen, especially since Johnson is still active and hasn’t received as many as 13 rushing attempts in any of the team’s past three games, but who knows, maybe the Titans run the ball a ton this week. Greene’s return surely doesn’t figure to help Johnson’s value, but it’s hard to tell how this situation shakes out. After all, didn’t Chicago Bears personnel pinky-swear a month ago that Michael Bush would become really involved in the running game? That hasn’t happened. However, Matt Forte is playing some great football. Chris Johnson is not.
Fantasy owners need not overreact to what the Titans plan to do, and certainly it could be for the purposes of motivating Johnson, but make no mistake, Greene is potentially back in play for fantasy purposes. He played in Week 1, but rushed only four times for 18 yards before leaving with a hurt knee. He saw one carry in Week 7, and now he and his team come off the bye week. He’s available in roughly half of ESPN’s standard leagues and since our job in this space each Friday is to point out sneaky free-agent signings in the fantasy world, well, Greene fits the description. He’s readily available and could matter. I mean, who thought Knowshon Moreno would matter? He’s the No. 2 running back for season scoring! Who thought Joique Bell would have a third more fantasy points than first-rounder Trent Richardson? Skills matter, and while many question Greene’s, perhaps the Titans don’t agree.
After all, they did upgrade the offensive line last offseason; quarterback Jake Locker does seem to be breaking out; and Greene, for all the fun people make of him, did achieve 1,000 rushing yards each of the past two seasons for the Jets, and scored more touchdowns than Johnson. Terrific ESPN colleague KC Joyner recommended Johnson in his recent article on second-half breakout running backs, and I concur that the team’s schedule looks a whole lot better the rest of the way. Then again, it also looks better for Greene.
Running back: Sticking with the most annoying of fantasy positions, at least this season, it’s also a wise time to add a few fellows who could return to the field in the next two weeks. The Giants’ Andre Brown (Week 10) and Patriots’ Shane Vereen (Week 11) are two examples following their teams’ bye week. It would hardly be a surprise if those guys are top-30 options in our rankings when they return. I don’t think anything is wrong with Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, but he looked terrible -- and barely used -- Monday, and yeah, it dawned on me that if he’s hurt, Christine Michael would look really good on a fantasy team’s bench. Robert Turbin would probably start, though. Sign him first. The 49ers’ Frank Gore has looked just dandy in recent weeks, but the team says it intends to get LaMichael James more involved moving forward. At least he’s healthy now. As mentioned last week, the Houston Texans did re-sign Deji Karim, and he does have a chance to matter this weekend if Arian Foster and Ben Tate can’t play.
Wide receiver: The Miami Dolphins lost slot guy Brandon Gibson for the season after he tore his knee, and word is Rishard Matthews will simply inherit the role. Meaningless, right? Well, Gibson has outscored Mike Wallace this season, so no, this is not meaningless. In Thursday’s game, Matthews caught just two of his four targets for 24 yards, but keep an eye on this situation. On the other side of Florida, cut Mike Williams. His season is over. In a deep league, take a chance on Tiquan Underwood, then Chris Owusu. The fantasy world eagerly awaits Percy Harvin returning for the Seahawks, but what if he doesn’t? Sidney Rice is also done for the year. (Tough week for wide receivers, eh?) Doug Baldwin will get chances this week. Darrius Heyward-Bey won’t produce Reggie Wayne numbers, but he should be owned in more than 11 percent of leagues. That’s really low. I’m also curious to see how many snaps LaVon Brazill receives. He just looks like he should be able to play. As with Vereen and Brown, the Detroit Lions could get Nate Burleson back in a week, and he could start. Alongside Calvin Johnson. Think about it. And rehabbing Mario Manningham could be starting for San Francisco soon as well.
Well, best of luck to all the rest of Week 9 and beyond, and have a great weekend!