For the sake of full disclosure, I have to admit that as of one week ago, Joseph Addai was not even on the list of NFL players I had been considering for the fantasy worthiness articles. He was an unsigned free agent with very limited options for the 2012 season. Suddenly, a lazy Saturday afternoon of waiting for the Kentucky Derby becomes a Cinco de Mayo miracle! The New England Patriots sign Addai to a one-year contract and he immediately vaults into fantasy relevance again. Just how relevant is what will be explored in this article. In the tradition of 2012 Kentucky Derby winner, 'I'll Have Another', long shot Joseph Addai can have another season in which he is a viable fantasy draft day selection?
Joseph Addai was drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts with the 30th overall selection out of LSU. He would enjoy a successful rookie season, amassing 1081 rushing yards, another 325 receiving yards and 8 total touchdowns in the regular season. In the post season he would contribute over 400 total yards and 2 touchdowns during the Colts' run to the championship, including an impressive 77 rushing yards and 10 catch, 65-yard performance in the Super Bowl. Addai would enjoy a career best season in 2007, totaling over 1,300 yards from scrimmage and scoring 15 touchdowns. In his first two seasons, Addai would play in 31 of 32 possible regular season games and the future seemed bright for the dual threat running back that had also amassed 81 receptions during those two seasons. Starting with the 2008 season, Addai would be beset with hamstring and shoulder injuries that have limited him to playing in only 47 of 64 possible regular season tilts. As the 2011 NFL season came to a close, Joseph Addai would complete his sixth and least productive season in Indianapolis. Playing in only 12 games last year due to a right hamstring injury, Addai would net a career low 526 total yards from scrimmage and score a single touchdown for the Colts. Donald Brown surpassed Addai on the depth chart in Indianapolis and rookie Delone Carter would only trail him by a total of 27 touches by season's end. The writing was on the wall for the oft-injured running back, and the Colts would release Addai in March of this year.
The New England Patriots allowed BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk to leave via free agency, and it became clear that they would be looking to sign a veteran running back. That New England chose to sign Addai over Tim Hightower and Ryan Grant (who also visited the team in late April) bodes very well for Addai being a contributor for the Patriots in 2012. The thought of entering the season with only Danny Woodhead and second year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen had to give Bill Belichick more than a small amount of concern. Signing Addai provides New England the experienced veteran presence in the backfield they lack. Under Belichick, the Patriots have managed to revitalize the career of aging veterans, especially when they have been brought in to fill a specific need.
In 2004, the Patriots traded a second round draft pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for 30-year old Corey Dillon, to take over the running back duties from Antowain Smith. Dillon would play 3 seasons in New England and amass over 3,170 rushing yards, 430 receiving yards and score 39 touchdowns. Dillon would be an integral part of the last New England championship team back in 2004, before finally being released prior to the 2007 campaign. Looking for lightning to strike twice, the Patriots would take another run at an aging running back, bringing longtime Jacksonville stand out Fred Taylor on board in 2009. Unfortunately for both Taylor and the Patriots, Taylor was 33 years when he joined the team and his body would break down in both 2009(ankle) and 2010(toe). In his two years in New England, Taylor would play in only 13 games, totaling 447 yards and 4 touchdowns. Still, the acquisition of Taylor shows the affinity that Belichick has for acquiring veteran running backs that he feels can contribute to the offense. Joseph Addai would appear to be a perfect fit for the New England Patriots and their spread offense; he is one of the premier pass protecting running backs in the league and has averaged 31 receptions a year over his career.
More specifically, Joseph Addai seems like a perfect fit for a Josh McDaniels led New England offense. It is not as if the Patriots struggled on offense without McDaniels last season, they put up over 6,840 total yards and scored 513 points on their way to a 13-3 regular season. However, a closer look at the distribution of the 611 passes that Tom Brady attempted in 2011 show quite a shift from the offense that the Patriots ran in McDaniels' last tenure with the team. Under offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien in 2011, the running backs were targeted approximately 58 times, Woodhead leading the way with 31. That was a drop off from the 85 in 2010 and 105 in 2009, two seasons in which the Patriots listed no offensive coordinator. During the McDaniels era from 2006-2008, New England threw the ball to their running backs in the regular season an average of 101 times. In the two years that Brady and McDaniels were together in 2006 and 2007 (Matt Cassel was under center in 2008), the Patriots targeted running backs on average a total of 98 times a season. Of course, when the offense boasts two of the top five tight ends in all of the NFL with Gronkowski and Hernandez, there will be a tendency to shift targets in their direction and that is what the Patriots have done. However, in his 4 seasons as an offensive coordinator, with New England and St Louis, McDaniels has averaged targeting the running back position 97 times per season. Long story short, McDaniels likes to utilize the running back position in the passing offense he employs as offensive coordinator, and that trend should return to the Patriots in 2012. Joseph Addai excels in all facets of the passing game.
There are a few more factors in play when evaluating Addai and his fantasy potential moving forward: his age, recent performance and history of injuries. First things first, Addai just turned 29 in May. Surprised? I was too. Addai is actually younger than Corey Dillon was when he joined New England. As for his performance in 2011, it mirrored the entire Colts offense that was listless and lost in the absence of Peyton Manning. In weeks one through five (prior to injuring his hamstring), Addai was averaging 4.4 yards per carry and scored a touchdown. He would miss four of the next five games and end the season averaging 3.7 yards per carry. While he has missed games due to injury, Addai has never been accused of not playing hard when he is on the field. Hamstring problems have plagued Addai in his career, but he is by no means unique in that sense. Shane Vereen, the third down back of the future in New England, saw his playing time limited severely in his rookie season due in part to lingering hamstring issues.
The departures of "The Law Firm" and Kevin Faulk from their backfield had left the Patriots with a big void at the running back position prior to the signing of Addai. Green-Ellis and Faulk had a combined 198 carries, 16 receptions, 917 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Woodhead, Ridley and Vereen combined for 169 carries, 21 receptions, 977 yards and 3 touchdowns. New England did not sign Addai as simply a camp body or as a mentor to the youngsters, he will be utilized in a Josh McDaniels offense as a trusted protector, and viable receiving option for Tom Brady. The Patriots are not looking for Addai to be their every down running back, they will use him to spell Ridley on occasion, and play to his strengths in the passing game. At only 29 years of age, Addai has at least one more serviceable season left in his body, and is absolutely WORTHY of being drafted in 12 team fantasy formats in 2012.