For years the Patriots offense has started and ended with Tom Brady. While New England will likely remain a pass-first attack, even with the loss of several top receiving threats from 2012, the running game is on solid ground as well.
Last season the Patriots posted impressive numbers when running the football, and lead back Stevan Ridley led the way by rushing for more than 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. But Ridley is not alone when it comes to talent in the New England backfield.
Shane Vereen is poised to replace Danny Woodhead as the change-of-pace back and he offers more potential than his predecessor in terms of ability to make big plays and run out of conventional sets. LeGarrette Blount is in the fold after coming via trade from Tampa Bay, and his bruising style and deceptive speed and elusiveness offers the Patriots another dimension. And Brandon Bolden also returns, providing a steady backup with the power to move the pile.
In all the Patriots have several options when it comes to running the football, so as the season is about to kick off we thought it was the perfect time to identify which member of the group would be the most productive in 2013.
With that, we'll kick off the new year with the following Samsonite Make Your Case question: Who will be the Patriots most productive running back this season?
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Ridley is the lead dog and figures to receive the most carries of the group. He proved he was capable of handling that kind of load last year when he led the team with 1,263 yards on 290 carries (for a solid 4.4-yard average) to go along with 12 touchdowns. If given the chance, I believe he could better those numbers in 2013.
The Patriots offense figures to go through some changes this season with all of the changes in the passing game. It would make sense if they leaned on Ridley a little more heavily than in the past, and if that happens, look for improvement across the board.
Ridley has a nice blend of power coupled with the elusiveness to turn in some big plays. He was lacking in that area a year ago but I believe with some added experience he could add that dynamic element to his already impressive resume. We saw a glimpse of that early in the preseason when he opened the Eagles game with a long run. More of those will follow in the regular season.
As long as Tom Brady remains the quarterback the Patriots will still be considered a passing team, but Ridley's talent will force people to take notice and he will be the team's most productive back this season.
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
I've been pounding this drum for a while now, but I really think that Shane Vereen is ready to become a breakout star for the Patriots new-look offense in 2013. Vereen has the versatility to be a three-down back and even line up wide as a pass catcher, offering more unique skills than predecessor Danny Woodhead. We've already seen him catch the ball down the field for big plays. Vereen has to stay healthy and improve his consistency, but with the offense going through a transition as a whole I really think he has the potential transform the way we look at the Patriots attack.
On the flipside of that, LeGarrette Blount is on the roster for a reason and offers a true backup to Ridley. Though still clearly New England's lead back, I think Ridley's numbers take a step back in 2013. Not too many guys have back-to-back 290-carry type seasons. (Only two NFL backs – Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster -- had more than 270 carries over each of the last two seasons.) Blount, and maybe Brandon Bolden, will cut into Ridley's touches and touchdowns on the goal line.
His role might decrease, whereas I see Vereen taking the third-down/change-of-pace/passing-back role on this team to the next level. Vereen is a different kind of player, and his contributions will be split between the rushing and the passing game, but he's going be the top overall producer in the New England backfield this fall.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your case poll question.