Well, I don't think many Patriots fans saw this one coming. With back to back picks in the second and third rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots went with the running back position. At pick 56, they selected California running back Shane Vereen. At pick 73 (after trading down from 60), the team went with Stevan Ridley out of LSU. Two running backs, two very different players.
The pick of Shane Vereen was a very solid one, in my opinion. As of now, the only running back actually under contract in 2011 for the Patriots is Danny Woodhead. While running back wasn't a need for the Patriots in the traditional sense, the Pats certainly needed to add some young bodies to the position. Vereen provides just that, and more. At 5'10", 210 lbs, Vereen has a compact build and is actually a lot stronger than you would think. He is a willing north-south runner, but he is best used in space, where his elusiveness and agility can be capitalized on. He's an explosive runner who has good vision, has great character, and always gives his best effort. In addition, Vereen is also a very good receiver. At Cal, he was asked to run a lot of different routes, which is pretty unique for a running back coming out of college. He is also surprisingly good in pass protection.
The only negatives surrounding Vereen would be his ability to be an every down back, as well as his ball security, which he struggled with at times while playing for Cal. The ball security issues can be worked on (see: Kevin Faulk), and he likely will not ever be the every down back for the Patriots. In fact, Vereen will likely be the 3rd down back of the future for the Patriots, and I think he can come in and contribute right away. Pick Grade: B
Read about Stevan Ridley after the jump!
The selection of Stevan Ridley with the 73rd pick was probably the most surprising and head scratching pick of the day for the Patriots. That doesn't mean I didn't like it, I did. But personally, I thought there were some intriguing options for the front seven still on the board (Allen Bailey in particular), but obviously Bill Belichick rated Ridley highly.
Don't get me wrong - there are some things to like about Ridley. If Shane Vereen is your lightning, then Stevan Ridley is your thunder. Ridley stands at just over 5'11" and 225 pounds. He is a very powerful runner with good vision. He breaks a lot of tackles and actually is a little bit more nimble than you would expect for a player of his size. Ridley also has played some fullback, originally going to LSU at that position. He doesn't have a tremendous amount of experience as a lead blocker, but I expect him to improve in that area. He is also a very solid special teams player who could likely play on all four units. In other words (and as Rich alluded to earlier), he is the Sammy Morris replacement (without the receiving skills).
Sure, he's not an explosive outside runner. He only runs a 4.65. But what he will do is be a power runner for the Patriots that helps wear down defenses in the second halves of games. Pick Grade: B-
Assuming BenJarvus Green-Ellis returns, the Patriots will have a stable of four running backs heading into 2011: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, and Stevan Ridley. The team may also want to keep one of its free agent veterans, such as Kevin Faulk or Sammy Morris. No matter what, it is now clear that the development of the two rookies, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, will certainly dictate the future of the Patriots' running back position.