New England Patriots: Five Ways to Replace Aaron Hernandez’s Production

5 of 6

4. Running Backs Picking up the Slack

Jan 13, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley (22) . Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

In offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ first year back in New England, he addressed a serious problem with the offense and re-established balance with former 2011 3rd round pick Stevan Ridley.  All Ridley did was carry the rock 290 times in the regular season for 1263 yards and a dozen touchdowns and force all the BenJarvis Green-Ellis fans–who lamented the Patriots not re-signing the plodding back last offseason–to swallow their words and recognize the dynamic, second-year workhorse. With Ridley further refining his blocking and receiving skills this summer, the Patriots could be in a position to see their young back continue to mature and grow into an NFL superstar.

Taken one round before Ridley in 2011 was explosive running back Shane Vereen.  In limited playing time in 2012, Vereen flashed the big play ability that led New England to draft him in the 2nd round in 2011.  With Danny Woodhead cashing in on a long-term contract in San Diego, his younger, more upside replacement is ready to step into the offense and give the Patriots the home run threat out of the backfield they have been searching for since running back Kevin Faulk retired.  Remember, a staple of the Patriots offensive attack in the early days of Tom Brady’s career was the running back as a receiver. Both Kevin Faulk and J.R. Redmond helped New England to a number of wins as chain-moving and big play receivers out of the backfield.  With Vereen on the field, the Patriots expect to feature the running back screen again as opposing defenses try to counter the multiple formations and looks the Patriots offense shows.

The Patriots have a dynamic duo at place at running back thanks to their foresight during the 2011 draft.  Add in veterans LaGarrette Blount, Leon Washington, and potentially second-year bruiser Brandon Bolden and the Patriots have a good mix of youth, power, savvy, and speed between their two 2011 draft picks to make the running game and involving the running backs in the passing game into potentially a large role of the 2013 offense.