For the past couple of seasons, the New England Patriots have featured a pass-happy attack. Now that the offense has been stripped of most of last season’s production (Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and even Brandon Lloyd), Josh McDaniels is expected to lean more on the ground game this season. That might not be such a bad thing.
First we start off with the talented Stevan Ridley. Ridley is the best pure runner in the Patriots’ backfield. He can run between the tackles and get some yards after contact, or he can cut back and run laterally, which is even better considering that McDaniels runs a zone-blocking scheme. The third-year running back was very productive in his workhorse role last season, carrying the ball 290 times for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. That’s good for a solid 4.4 yards per carry average. He won’t contribute much in the passing game, but Ridley is much more than just an early-down plodder. This guy has some burst to his runs.
Then we move on to third-down running back Shane Vereen. His game complements Ridley’s perfectly. He has the potential to be an elite pass catcher out of the backfield, a la Darren Sproles. Vereen also has enough quickness to make defenders miss tackles in the open field and enough straight-line speed to win a footrace down the sidelines. At some point, Patriots fans will see Vereen as an upgrade on Danny Woodhead.
Most people believe that LaGarrette Blount will be the third running back on the depth chart, and he should be after an impressive preseason. Blount will likely play the role of short-yardage running back in this offense. His strength lies running between the tackles where he can make defenders bounce off of his big 250-pound frame. It’s safe to say that Blount will be the closer for the Patriots, a running back who will be used to kill the clock and even some steal some short-yardage carries from Ridley.
Brandon Bolden is the underrated running back in this group. Patriots fans probably don’t remember him that much after Bolden was suspended for four games last season. However, when he was in action, Bolden showed some nice burst for a guy who was known more for his power. He ran for 274 yards on just 56 carries, good for a 4.9 YPC average. If he continues this pace, Bolden’s career could follow a similar path to that of New York Jets‘ running back Chris Ivory, who would always tease starting running back potential in limited work.
This running back group is arguably the deepest and most talented in the league. The best thing is that none of these guys are older than 26 (Blount), so they all have relatively fresh bodies. In a season where the passing game might take a hit, the Patriots’ running game should be there to pick up the slack.
Philip Alexander is a New England Patriots writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @steely0906, “like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.