Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
I was watching a fantasy football video segment the other day. The commentators were discussing the typical “start/sit” players and when Stevan Ridley’s name popped up in the conversation, I wasn’t surprised to hear he was a recommended “sit” against a stout Panthers defense. That part didn’t bother me.
The commentators went on to mention that the Carolina unit had not allowed a rushing touchdown in the past five games and that it would be a bad decision to start New England Patriots’ running back, “Mr. Fumble Hands.” Okay, now that bothered me. And it’s not just because he’s on three of my fantasy teams. Well, maybe a little. But I still love the guy’s talent and don’t think he is careless enough to warrant a name as callous as Mr. Fumble Hands.
Ever since Ridley blundered in back-to-back games to close out the 2011 season – his rookie year – he has continually been referred to as “fumble prone” from multiple outlets. The problem with that statement is that it is mostly an opinionated one and not necessarily factual. That is not to say my heart did not skip a beat when Troy Polamalu smoked Ridley after a short reception in week 9 against the Steelers, causing the ball to squirt out and leaving me wondering whether or not Ridley would again find himself in the Belichick doghouse.
I took the time to compile statistics from the past two seasons so we can compare just how “fumble prone” Ridley is in comparison to other backs. Keep in mind that these figures do not factor in reception flubs, but strictly those that result from carries out of the backfield. In other words, that Polamalu-forced turnover would not count here. These tables strictly reflect carries per fumble out of the backfield during the 2012 and current 2013 (through week 10) seasons.
Ridley fumbled 4 times in 290 carries in 2012. At 73 carries per fumble, it may not have been a stellar security performance, but he did rack up over 1,200 yards on the ground and was an ultra-productive cog in the New England offense. By comparison, Willis McGahee had 5 fumbles in 167 attempts; LeSean McCoy dropped 4 in 200 tries; and Jamaal Charles lost 5 in 285 efforts.
The 2013 version of Ridley thus far is actually an upgrade in the security department, with 118 carries per fumble. Not quite an elite number, but hardly an indicator of a fumble-prone running back. The statistics don’t lie.
Part of Ridley’s fumbling “infamy” seems to stem from his habit of coughing up the ball at the most inopportune times, notably during this year’s opening game against Buffalo, which led to the game’s momentum shift away from New England. Or in the second half of the 2012 AFC title game against Baltimore; though in his defense, Ridley surrendered that one after being knocked unconscious by Bernard Pollard. And of course, Bill Belichick’s stranglehold on turnover reduction magnifies all of these situations as well (i.e., that pesky doghouse).
At any rate, Ridley is a talented back and certainly not irresponsible enough with the football to earn a moniker as imprecise as Mr. Fumble Hands. Adrian Peterson (twenty fumbles in first three years) and Tiki Barber (four seasons with at least eight fumbles!) were both notorious for spilling the ball early in their careers and many big names in the league today have problems of their own. Obviously, time will tell how Ridley’s long-term security issues pan out, but rest assured, he’s far from a freak anomaly.