The running back position has never really been a primary focus on the Patriots offense but with Brady aging, the importance of a good run game may be very key for the upcoming 2014 season.
The Patriots lead running back, Stevan Ridley, has run into some fumbling issues during his tenure with the Patriots. The ability of Brandon Bolden and Shane Verren to stay on the field is always a question mark so with their 4th round, 130th pick, the Patriots drafted half back James White out of Wisconsin. Of coarse not all the running backs that the Patriots are carrying right now are going to make the team so lets take a look at the running back position in depth.
Out of all the running backs on the Patriots roster, Ridley may posses the best pure talent. Pure talent doesn’t get you too far with the Patriots because if you can’t hold onto the ball you won’t see yourself on the field too much on a Belichick coached team.
Ridley was limited in 2013 due to fumbling issues, a knee injury and the emergence of LaGarrette Blount, who was running like a top-notch running back.
But Ridley knows he has far from locked up the starting running back position this year.
In this system, always,” Ridley said Thursday after OTAs. “I’m telling you, I don’t say that lightly. I mean, you can go out there and be a starter one game and the next game, you’re two or three guys behind. So really none of that matters. It’s week in and week out and that’s what coach stresses to us every week that we have to go out there and be competitive as we can be. He’s going to play the matchups game, and we just have to be unselfish enough to go out there and capitalize on the plays that we get. It’s not really about competition between the room. I think we just have to push each other to make each the best that we can be.”
My 2014 Stevan Ridley Projection:
205(up 17) rushes, 1,200(up 427) yards and 14(up 7) touchdowns
2) Shane Vereen
For a lot of last season, Shane Vereen was heavily relied upon by Brady to be open. Vereen was very good out of the backfield catching ball after ball. Vereen averaged 9.1 yards a reception, which was second on the Patriots.
Look for Vereen to play pretty much of the same role he played last season. That role being, coming out of the backfield and blocking and catching small passes and running for big gains. A broke wrist really limited Vereen’s play last season as he was on the IR week two and didn’t get taken off it until week 12.
My 2014 Shane Vereen Projection:
14 games, 57(up 13) rushes 300(up 92) yards, and 4(up 3) touchdowns; 60(up 13) receptions, 600(up 173) yards and 6(up 3) touchdowns
3) James White
I do fully expect James White to really open eyes during camp and win the spot as the number 3 back on this team. White is an explosive back and he showed that at Wisconsin, finishing fourth in their school’s history with 4,015 rushing yards and third in touchdowns with 45 over his illustrious career.
My 2014 James White Projection:
45 rushes, 200 yards and 3 touchdowns
Although Bolden has showed some promise at times for the Patriots he has showed some times where he had acted like a complete knuckle head and got suspended for PED use. Bolden has explosion in his running game and is a very good option as the Patriots fourth running back.
My 2014 Brandon Bolden Projection: N/A
Key losses at running back:
*LaGarrette Blount: 2013 numbers- 153 rushes, 772 yards and 7 touchdowns
Running backs on current roster who need to fight for their spot:
Patriots RB Depth Chart Grade and Reason: B
So I know giving the running backs a B grade won’t be the popular thing but it’s the right choice. One of the main reasons I do this is because of inconsistency. Steven Ridley will either have a game where he will run for 125 yards of a game where he can only accumulate 45 yards. Will he be able to hold onto the ball is another huge concern. With Gronk back, that should open up gaps for the run game this year more than last. Also, Shane Vereen missed more than half of last season. Will his wrist and hamstring hold up this season to the point where he is able to be a big time contributor? The loss of Blount is huge as his few 200+ yards games on the ground really propelled the Patriots run game at times last season.