It's very easy to forget that last year's rookies didn't have a full offseason and were unable to properly acclimate themselves to the NFL and really immerse themselves in their respective team's playbooks. And yet, in spite of that, Stevan Ridley quietly put together a decent rookie year with the New England Patriots. His numbers didn't blow anyone away (441 yards on 87 carries with 1 touchdown), but he averaged an impressive 5.1 yards per carry and definitely showed flashes of why the Patriots picked him in the 3rd round last year. While most would agree that Ridley is poised to share starting duties with fellow draft pick Shane Vereen, Ridley is the biggest running back on the team and, based on last season, the one most poised to assume the starting role.
There are enough bodies in the Patriots backfield right now to make any prediction as to who will ultimately emerge as the starter little more than a shot in the dark, but you'd have to think that Bill Belichick didn't draft running backs with his 2nd and 3rd round picks to have them on the bench behind any aging veterans, which means that the odds are good that with Ridley or Vereen will emerge as the primary back. Ridley and Vereen represent two very different kinds of runners, and I think that Ridley's skillset is a little bit more conducive to the Patriots current offensive scheme.
Find out why after the jump.
Strengths: Great size and strength. Downhill runner that has the ability to truck defenders. Has a deceptively fast burst/2nd gear and good vision when attacking the hole. Powerful stiff arm. Almost always falls forward for extra yardage when tackled.
Weaknesses: Experienced ball security issues late last season. Not a burner and unlikely to consistently break for huge gains Lacks the agility to make defenders miss, choosing instead to lower his shoulder. Adequate in pass protection, but inconsistent. Inexperienced as a receiving back and is slow to turn up the field after the catch.
How will the Patriots use him? As I mentioned in Monday's article about Joseph Addai, I think that the Patriots are going to take a very game-plan specific approach to their running game. Against teams where a smaller, faster back is more effective, I expect Shane Vereen to see more carries. Against teams where the back is best utilized as a pass blocker and outlet receiver, I expect Joseph Addai to see the most action. However, if I had to name a running back to insert into New England's base offense, I'm going with Ridley. He took advantage of the opportunities he was given last year, and other than his late-season fumbleitis (which I think is a tad overblown, to be honest), I think he demonstrated that he is capable of filling in for BenJarvus Green-Ellis as the primary back. Again, I'm very curious to see if New England is bringing in all of these big tight ends and fullbacks because they are looking to bring back the power running game; if so, Ridley has the size, speed, and explosiveness to be a factor, particularly with teams forced to respect New England's passing game. Ridley vs. Vereen is one of the training camp battles I'm most looking forward to, and I think whoever has the better camp will get the nod. Even though Vereen took many of the 1st team snaps at OTAs, I still say Ridley is the way to go based on his size and durability.
How will his season play out? Part-time starter, 1st and 2nd down back with potential to usurp Addai as goal line back, 50% of carries (with Shane Vereen)