Bill Belichick running backs are as notorious for their fantasy potential as they are their fantasy disappointment. As cogs in the New England machine, they tease fantasy owners with their close proximity to fantasy points, but rarely seem to grab the role of a #1 fantasy back. While less than stellar skills have played a role in this trend over the years, a more accurate reason for the lack of a definitive fantasy RB1 is the Pats’ infamous week-by-week, opponent-based offensive game planning that makes a running back The Man one week and a blocking decoy the next.
There have been exceptions of course. Corey Dillon’s 1,600 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2004 and Stevan Ridley’s breakout campaign last year (1,200 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns) were certainly fantasy RB worthy.
But for every undisputed bellcow like Dillon that has lined up behind Tom Brady, there have been countless lower-tiered backs (See also: Antowain Smith, Lawrence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, etc.) And while Ridley remains entrenched as their go-to-rusher this season, another back on the roster will receive plenty of fantasy attention in 2013.
Enter Shane Vereen.
Vereen could be Belichick’s ultimate offensive dream. A Faulk-type back that lines up at tailback or in the slot or even out wide – but with skills more reminiscent of Marshall Faulk than Kevin Faulk.
Pretty Faulking exciting, right?
With all due respect, Kevin Faulk was never going to blow any one away with his speed or raw talent. Faulk’s value was his flexibility and football acumen: retuning kicks, catching big third-down screen passes, making the smart decision and whatever else was asked of him. But with Vereen, Belichick has a player that has shown similar versatility but with a far more impressive skill set.
Look no further than the first game of the 2012 NFL Playoffs. Vereen caught 5 passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns with another touchdown on the ground to go along with his 41 yards rushing on just 7 carries.
It is this performance that the 2013 Patriots are circling as the archetype of how they would like to use Vereen. With the loss of seemingly anyone that caught passes from Brady last year, there is a strong need for pass-catchers in this pass-heavy offense. It’s quite possible that Vereen is moving towards a featured role in the offense. He’s one of the few players that can create mismatches on a team that focuses on creating mismatches.
Whether he’s entering the game with a fresh set of legs to spell Ridley or lined up as a slot receiver, he’s got big-play potential whenever he touches the ball. While still early in the preseason, it seems as though he will be utilized like a Darren Sproles or Reggie Bush type back.
Anytime you’re referenced as a “safety valve” of Tom Brady’s as Vereen has been during training camp, you’re going to warrant plenty of fantasy consideration. Add in the combination of the Patriots’ depleted receiving core and Vereen’s speed, receiving ability and elusiveness, and fantasy owners have every right to be eyeing Shane as a flex or even RB2 option.