Stevan Ridley is an interesting player. He is extremely talented, but he does the one thing that can break a quality running back’s career, which is fumble the football. If you can’t hang onto the ball, your other skills are absolutely worthless. Ridley fumbled three times in 2013, which resulted in a down year in terms of production. Bill Belichick benched Ridley for a good portion of the season, in an effort to get him to cut down on his fumbling problem. In my opinion, if it weren’t for the fumbles, Ridley would be one of the best backs in football. He has the power, speed, vision, and elusiveness, but it all will be for naught if he keeps turning the ball over.
However I think next year will bring about a different Ridley. He knows that if he continues to screw up, he probably won’t be brought back after his contract runs out after the 2014 season. So if he wants to stay in New England, with a winning program, he will be forced to turn it around. But it wasn’t this that made me think next year could be the year for Ridley (although being in a contract year drives players harder than just about anything else). I took a look at Adrian Peterson‘s career statistics, and like Ridley, he started off his career with a tendency to drop the football like it was a hot potato. But the best running back in the league fumbled the ball a hell of a lot more than Ridley did. In Peterson’s first two seasons in the NFL, he put the ball on the ground a whopping 19 times. Ridley through his first three seasons? Eight fumbles. Yes, Peterson did carry the ball much more than Ridley did in those first three seasons (360 more carries), but the percentages favor Ridley. Peterson gave the ball up once every 48 carries, while Ridley only lost it once every 66 carries.
Now I am not comparing Peterson to Ridley, because we all know that Peterson is a much better back, but let’s not ridicule Ridley like he has fumbled it more than anybody in the history of the NFL. But after Peterson’s third season, something clicked. In the four years since, he has amassed a mere eight fumbles. Could this happen to Ridley? I don’t see why not. If he puts in the work, there isn’t anything that I have seen saying that he can’t turn his young career around. As I said before, if he eliminates the fumbles, he immediately vaults into the top group of running backs in the league.
One last reason why Ridley could have a breakout year in 2014, is his fellow teammates. Shane Vereen is pretty much locked into the role of “third down back”, but if LeGarrette Blount is re-signed, he could easily take away Ridley’s job. Blount is a powerful guy, but he isn’t nearly as skilled as Mr. Ridley. However taking care of the ball is the most important thing a running back has to do, and if Blount shows that he can keep a tight grip on it, Ridley may be out of a job. But based on what has transpired through his short three year stint in Foxboro, I think the former LSU star will be motivated to prove his doubters wrong, and burst onto the NFL scene with a terrific season.