Green’s skill outweighs his fumbles
Sunday, November 16, 2003

Scouts agree with Packers: You take good with bad

By Rob Demovsky

What NFL team wouldn’t want a running back that’s almost a lock to gain 1,200 yards every season? There probably isn’t one.

Now add fumbles to the equation.

What if that same back, who is a sure bet to be among the league leaders in rushing yards season after season, puts the ball on the ground a half-dozen times a year?

Do you want him now?

“I assume we’re talking about Ahman Green, right?” said Jeremy Green, the Cleveland Browns director of pro personnel and no relation to the Green Bay Packers running back.

Jeremy Green, the son of former Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green, had the same opinion as five other NFL scouts who were asked the same question in the last week.

“I’d still take him,” Jeremy Green said. “He’s one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL. What are you going to do?”

It is a question the Packers were forced to ask themselves again last week after Green set the team’s single-game rushing record with 192 yards on Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles — despite fumbling twice in the 17-14 loss.

Green leads all NFL running backs this season with seven fumbles, five of them lost. Tiki Barber of the New York Giants has six fumbles, while Cleveland’s William Green, Baltimore’s Jamal Lewis and Miami’s Ricky Willams all have five.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Packers are 0-5 this season in games in which Green has lost a fumble.

According to Stats Inc., a sports research company in Morton Grove, Ill., Green has fumbled 25 times since he came into the NFL in 1998. That ranks him fourth among running backs from 1998 to the present behind Barber (38 fumbles), Williams (32) and Tennessee’s Eddie George (26).

In a performance similar to Green’s on Monday night, Barber ran for a career-high 203 yards against Philadelphia last December but fumbled three times.

As the Packers have done with Green, the Giants have stuck with Barber, who ranks fourth in the NFC in rushing behind Green, Carolina’s Stephen Davis and New Orleans’ Deuce McAllister.

”The Giants are going through the same thing with Barber,” said Scott Cohen, the Eagles’ director of pro personnel. “He does everything in their offense. I mean everything. But he fumbles. Does that mean he’s not a great back? I don’t know.”

Cohen said there is no indecision about Green. He considers Green, “ a great back,” and said he would take him on his team.

“Based on who he is and what he’s done, you stick with him,” Cohen said.

Green’s fumblitis isn’t a new problem.

Coach Mike Holmgren got fed up with Green in Seattle and traded him to the Packers after Green fumbled once as a rookie in 1998 and twice in 1999.

Green became the Packers’ starter in 2000, and fumbled six times. He followed that with five fumbles in 2001 and four in 2002. At seven, and perhaps counting, this has been his worst season for hanging onto the football.

In almost every other way, however, it has been Green’s best year.

He went over the 1,000-yard mark against the Eagles, in the ninth game of the season. He has topped the 100-yard rushing mark in five of the last six games. He is on pace to shatter the team’s single-season rushing record of 1,474 yards set by Jim Taylor in 1962.

If Green continues at his current pace, he will rush for 1,889 yards.

If not for the seven fumbles, he might merit consideration as the NFL’s most valuable player.

“The guy, God bless him, runs as hard as any back in the league and is as physical as any,” Packers coach Mike Sherman said. “But we have to hang on to the football. That has to happen.”

With 1,063 rushing yards this season, Green has 5,194 yards for his career. Just 26, he has a legitimate chance to crack the NFL’s top-20 career rushing list. Terry Allen is No. 20 with 8,455 yards.

If Green continues at his current pace — he has averaged 1,267 yards per year over the previous three seasons — he would move onto that list within three years.

The Browns’ Jeremy Green said he would not take just any 1,200-yard per season back who fumbled. He cited Pittsburgh’s Jerome Bettis, who is 10th on the career rushing list. The scout said he probably wouldn’t want Bettis if he was a fumbler, yet he would take Green.

“He might get you the same yardage as Green, but I wouldn’t take him if he fumbled the same amount,” Jeremy Green said. “Bettis is a 3- or 4-yard-a-carry guy, but he’s not explosive like Green. There’s bigger upside, more explosive play potential, with Green.”

Green’s fumbling problems began in the NFL, not earlier. None of the draft guides for 1998 mentions fumbles as a problem for Green. His high school coach, Joe McMenamin, is surprised fumbles have been a problem for Green.

“He didn’t fumble at all in high school, and I don’t think he fumbled at Nebraska, either,” said McMenamin, who has been the coach at Omaha (Neb.) Central High School for the last 25 years. “He had great hands.

“He is such a great runner that you’re probably willing to put up with it or live with it because he does so many other great things.”

Perhaps a better gauge as to the frequency of fumbles is touches per fumble, another number compiled by Stats Inc.

Green averages a fumble every 56.7 times he touches the ball — either on a run or pass reception. Brian Mitchell, a 15-year veteran who plays for the Giants, is the worst, at 39.4 touches per fumble.

In Stats Inc., data that dates to the 1940s, Green ranked 49th all time in touches per fumble. His rate is almost identical to that of Marcus Allen, John Riggins and Earl Campbell, all of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Who wouldn’t want any one of those guys on their team?

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