Welcome back to my New England Patriots position analysis series, where last week we started with the quarterback situation. Today, we will be moving down the roster onto the running back corps, and looking at what they could bring to the table in 2014. Like last time, I will be giving you some additions, departures, general thoughts, depth chart, strengths weaknesses, some final thoughts and then a grade. So with all that being said, let’s look at the Patriots situation at running back.
James White via NFL Draft (Pick 130)
LeGarrette Blount to the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Patriots look pretty well rounded at running back again this year, thanks to the depth that they have built up over the past couple years, and some really good drafting. Stevan Ridley is coming off a very up and down year, but once again proved that when he can hold onto the ball, he’s a very good running back, and capable of really driving this offense. Shane Vereen is coming off a mostly injury filled year, but hopefully this offseason will have helped to heal his injured wrist. If Vereen can be the third down, do it all back again, the Patriots have maybe their most important weapon outside of Rob Gronkowski. James White was drafted in the fourth round, and is a less explosive version of Shane Vereen. He everything well, including pass protection, which is something the Patriots did not have from their running backs last season. Lastly, we have Brandon Bolden and James Develin. Bolden is on the outside looking in at this point, and in my opinion won’t make the team. However with a strong showing in the preseason, and maybe giving a couple glimpses of some power running, he could fill the role vacated by Blount from last season. As for Develin, I’m aware he’s a fullback, but I’m going to include him in the running back report, as I don’t think anyone would read a fullback position analysis about one player. As for some UDFAs, they did add lightning quick Roy Finch, and bruiser Stephen Houston. Perhaps if they were to outshine Bolden in preseason, one could make the team, but it’s a long shot.
1. Stevan Ridley
2. Shane Vereen
3. James White
4. Brandon Bolden
5. James Develin
The strength of the Patriots running back corps is their versatility. Not one of them is an every down, do it all back, but those are so rare in the NFL, and you end up having to pay those guys massive amounts of money. So the Patriots built their stable of running backs with the intent of having each one fill a certain niche. Ridley is very explosive with a great first step, and hits the hole hard. Vereen and White are the pass catching, third down backs, Bolden if makes the team, can give them some downhill running, and Develin is an excellent goaline runner. There isn’t one that will wow you, but they all fall under that Belichick motto, “Do your job”.
As for weaknesses, they don’t have an apparent successor for the position that LeGarrette Blount filled last season. The Patriots don’t have that guy that can work a clock in the fourth quarter when they have a lead. Ridley is capable of being that guy, but he still has those fumbling issues, and is best suited for the hard running in the first half. Like I said above, maybe Bolden can fill that role, but his problem is that he’s so passive at times, constantly wanting to bounce things outside, and not hitting holes very hard. I don’t imagine the Patriots going out to get another running back, considering there really aren’t any of good value left, but they will need to try and address this issue, considering it’s so important to their offense now. The final thing I’d like to bring up is injury. This Patriots stable of backs was hit hard last season by the injury bug, and they lost a back and added a back. Maybe last year was just an anomaly, but the Patriots could be in big trouble if Ridley or Vereen were to go down for large chunks of time this season.
The Patriots are in a pretty favourable position in terms of their running backs this season. While Ridley and Vereen are both going into contract seasons, it does mean that both will be plenty fired up to get as much money as they can next season, either from the Patriots or another team on the open market. James White provides some fresh legs, and a very reliable runner who doesn’t fumble the ball (*knocks on wood). They have some very intriguing prospects from undrafted free agency in Houston and Finch, and maybe if Bolden could bring it all together, and get a mean streak, then perhaps he’s the biggest wildcard on the team. The Patriots running backs are once again deep, and all bring something different to the table.
What is everyone else’s thoughts on the New England Patriots running back situation? Does it need to be upgraded right now? Are you comfortable with the future of running back position with both Ridley and Vereen going into free agency this season? Let me know in the comments section.