The New England backfield was a strange beast in 2013. Most people expected Stevan Ridley to double up on his spectacular 2012 (1,314 total yards, 12 touchdowns), but early fumble issues put him firmly in Bill Belichick’s doghouse. Shane Vereen started off the year with a bang (159 total yards in week 1 against the Bills) and promptly broke his wrist.
LeGarrette Blount made himself semi-relevant again and averaged 5 YPC on 153 carries. Brandon Bolden was used sparingly but had several effective games. So what does 2014 hold for the men lining up behind Tom Brady? I think you’re going to like the answer.
I’m going to start by looking at the number of startable fantasy football weeks that Patriot running backs put up last year. By “startable,” I mean that the back finished in the top-24 RB fantasy scorers for that week. I chose 24 as the cut-off point because that’s the number of RBs being started in a 12-team league with two RB spots. Depending on the number of teams and your inclusion or exclusion of a flex spot, there may be more or less than 24 RBs being started in your league.
However, I thought 24 was a good number to start with. I didn’t include week 17 in this analysis, as most fantasy leagues don’t play in week 17. The following table sums up the results.
|Running Back||Startable Weeks|
Sure, Stevan Ridley led the team in startable weeks. Sure, Brandon Bolden had a surprising 4 startable weeks. That’s all fine and good, but the most important takeaway from this is that Patriot running backs put up 16 total startable weeks last year.
Only the Kansas City Chiefs’ backfield gave us more startable weeks in 2013 (they had 17). So in what was largely seen as a down year for Patriots running backs, they were the 2nd most startable group of running backs in the NFL. That’s huge.
It means that there’s plenty of opportunity for fantasy success in the Patriots backfield. The issue in 2013 was inconsistency in who was actually getting the football. But fear not! LeGarrette Blount is now in Pittsburgh, and it’s my belief that Brandon Bolden won’t be seeing the field too much in 2014.
So without further ado, let’s take a deeper look into the fantasy football prospects of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley.
The Fantasy Value of Shane Vereen in 2014
It shouldn’t be particularly difficult to project Shane Vereen’s 2014 stats. His production isn’t really reliant on the playing time of his peers, as he plays a change-of-pace role within the offense. He played eight games in his injury-shortened 2013, and had a startable week in exactly half of his games.
If we project Vereen’s 2013 numbers over 16 games (which seems like a fairly reasonable thing to do), we end up with 1280 total yards and 8 TDs. This would have put Vereen 16th in fantasy points among RBs last year, right in between Alfred Morris and Le’Veon Bell.
For perspective, according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, Bell is currently the 10th RB off the board, Morris is 12th, and Vereen is….23rd. On average, he’s being taken 2-3 rounds lower than Bell and Morris. Now, some of this lowered ADP is justified. In three years in the NFL, Vereen’s played in 26 out of 48 possible games, so his injury risk and his status as the change-of-pace back certainly warrant a discount.
That being said, there’s some sort of inherent risk in almost every RB available past Matt Forte, so I see a 2-3 round drop as probably being a bit excessive. Vereen’s a low-end-RB2 that you can get for the price of an RB3.
I’ve gone this far without mentioning perhaps the most interesting aspect of Vereen’s stats, but I can’t go any further: he had 3 more receptions than carries last year, and twice as many yards through the air as he did on the ground.
In fact, if you project his 2013 stats over 16 games, he’s the NFL leader in RB receptions by 18 and in RB receiving yards by 150. The guy’s a PPR monster, and he should be a top-20 back in every PPR league out there.
Vereen’s the rare back that can still be fantasy-relevant even while not getting the majority of his team’s carries (think Darren Sproles in his heyday). Don’t sleep on Vereen when your fantasy draft day comes around.
Fantasy Value of Stevan Ridley in 2014
Ridley’s situation is slightly less straight-forward than Vereen’s. It’s entirely possible that Ridley comes out as the lead back in week 1 and fumbles his position away again. That obviously can turn fantasy owners away. It’s also entirely possible that he gets over his fumbling issues and reasserts himself as the bell-cow back he was in 2012. That sounds pretty appealing to me, and I think the smart money is on the latter option.
With Blount gone, the only option to steal the majority of Ridley’s carries is Bolden (I doubt Belichick wants to use Vereen as his bell-cow back), and Bolden has never been healthy for a full season, nor has he seen more than 56 carries in one season. So Ridley’s job looks relatively safe.
Assuming that Ridley keeps the role of the primary rusher in New England’s offense, what can we expect out of him? Blount’s departure leaves roughly 150 carries for the rest of the running backs to grab, and I already accounted for 40 of these with Vereen’s projection. If Ridley keeps his job, it’s probably fair to give him 100 of those 150. Based on his 2013 numbers, that leaves us with a projection of 280 carries, 1,210 yards, and 11 TDs on the ground.
We’ll throw in a conservative 50 yards through the air (he had 62 last year) and 4 fumbles to be safe (he’ll improve, but I doubt he’ll kick the habit entirely). That’s 184 fantasy points, which would’ve placed him firmly at 13th among RBs in 2013. Sure, that sounds a bit optimistic, but Ridley produced 196 fantasy points just two years ago. It’s certainly not out of the question that he could produce like that again.
So if I’m projecting that Stevan Ridley puts up numbers this year that would’ve made him the 13th ranked RB last year, he’s gotta have a pretty decent ADP, right? Wrong. RB29. RB-freakin-29. He finished 2013 as RB29, lost his major competition for carries in the offseason, and he’s still being drafted as RB29. His floor is basically RB29, and his ceiling is RB13, yet he’s being drafted as RB29. If Stevan Ridley is the 29th running back off the board in your fantasy draft, someone got an absolute steal.
The Bottom Line
The Patriot offense should have no problem supporting two fantasy-relevant running backs, and I’d be willing to wager that Ridley and Vereen are the highest scoring RB duo this side of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.
Barring a major rise in ADP over the next couple months, both backs (particularly Ridley) are worth much more than their draft prices. Monitor them both closely over the next couple months, and try to take advantage of their value come draft day.
Like the Patriots running backs this year? Hate em? Think Stevan Ridley will keep putting the ball on the ground? Think Shane Vereen is made of glass? Think Brandon Bolden is the second coming of Barry Sanders? Let me know! As always, I’d love to talk fantasy football.
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