Scoutlook: New England Patriots Backfield (PREMIUM PREVIEW)
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Scoutlook: New England Patriots Backfield (PREMIUM PREVIEW)

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Here's a surprising stat: the New England Patriots rushed the ball for 2,065 yards last year, ninth among all NFL teams. That's right. Despite their well-documented offensive struggles, the Pats had a top-ten rushing offense in 2013.

That makes it all the more frustrating that they didn't have a 1,000-yard rusher on the roster. They rushed the ball 470 times, but no Patriots tailback got 200 carries – Stevan Ridley was tops with 178. LeGarrette Blount was second with 153, but he's now on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Deciphering committees is one of the toughest challenges fantasy owners confront. But with head coach Bill Belichick committed to running the ball, it seems likely that there will be at least one viable fantasy option coming out of the New England backfield.

Who will it be? Let's take a look at the contenders.

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Shane Vereen

When he was healthy, Vereen was probably the best fantasy tailback on the Patriots' roster in 2013. He averaged 10.5 fantasy points through the final seven games after returning from a broken wrist suffered in Week 1. Vereen caught 40 passes in that span but got more than three carries only twice, averaging just 4.2 carries per game. He was also fairly touchdown-dependent for fantasy value as 24 of his 73-odd fantasy points came from scores.

Vereen is being talked up as a sleeper in drafts this year because of his receiving ability. That could end up being the case, but the important thing to remember is that Vereen didn't see a lot of conventional work last season, so his value comes primarily from his work in the passing game. If that changes this year, and he picks up a big share of the work vacated by Blount, he's got a good shot at a top-20 finish among fantasy running backs.

It's also worth noting once more that Vereen has struggled to stay on the field in his short career. He's played just 26 games in three years and has never tallied more than 100 touches in a season. One wonders how he'll hold up physically if the Patriots do decide to expand his role on the ground.

Vereen is going the earliest of any Patriots RB, coming off draft boards as the 18th running back overall.

Stevan Ridley

Ridley was widely considered a borderline top-10 fantasy back entering last season. Then the season started. The main problem was that Ridley had a hard time holding onto the ball. He lost a fumble in the season opener and then lost three consecutive fumbles in Weeks 9, 11 and 12 -– Week 10 was the Patriots' bye. After that stretch, Ridley went into Belichick's doghouse, averaging just five carries per game over the next month.

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Stephen Englert
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Indianapolis, IN
FFToolbox Fantasy Football Writer since 2014
Stephen Englert has been a fantasy football enthusiast and writer for over 10 years. He is a diehard fan of the Indianapolis Colts first, and his fantasy teams second (barely). He currently lives in Naples, FL.


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