The second-to-last installment of our running back breakdown examines the enigma that is Shane Vereen. The latest member to join the ever-growing "Who the hell did the Patriots just use a high draft pick on?" club, Vereen battled a lingering hamstring injury all last year and saw very limited on-field action. While the Patriots are clearly high on him and he was seen taking the bulk of the 1st team carries during OTAs, the fact of the matter is we don't have a whole lot of professional game tape to go on when it comes to Vereen, and much of our analysis has to come from his college career as a result. And while I went back and looked at as much 2011 footage I could on Vereen, today's report is based mainly on his scouting report and what I think the Patriots are going to do offensively in 2012.
For some reason, a lot of people are pegging Vereen as a smaller speed guy; while that isn't an entirely incorrect statement, 5'10" and 210 pounds isn't exactly El Shrimpo status, and he definitely has more to offer than just speed.
Strengths: Very low center of gravity makes him hard to tackle. Deceptively strong for his size. Excellent patience in waiting for plays to develop and finding cutback lanes. Runs hard with a solid burst through the hole and has great vision. Effective in traffic. Good hands and instincts as a pass catcher. Can motion out wide and shows good technique in pass protection. Versatile and can cover kicks as well.
Weaknesses: Injury limited his production and he remains largely unproven. Not a big play threat; lacks explosiveness and is known more as a "speed builder." While he is a good cutter, he lacks elite foot quickness. Had ball security issues in college.
How will the Patriots use him? Vereen is definitely the fastest back the Patriots currently have on the roster, in spite of his relatively pedestrian 4.5 40 time. Provided he proves himself durable and able to handle a sizable workload, I can see Vereen being a key cog in an effective no-huddle offense due to his ability to split out wide and act as a receiver. Vereen isn’t the guy you go to to grind out yards and kill the clock, but if the defense is back on its heels and the Patriots are driving, Vereen’s versatility should come up big. Vereen also seems well positioned to at least split 3rd down duties with Danny Woodhead, as he has a definitive edge over Ridley in the receiving/pass protection game. I can see the Patriots opening a game with Ridley as the starter, and then handing the reins over to Vereen in order to take advantage of mismatches and tire out the opposing front 7. By swapping out Ridley and Vereen on a situational basis, the Patriots can keep both backs fresh, keep defenses on their toes, and absolutely infuriate fantasy owners nationwide.
How will his season play out? Speed back for use with the no-huddle offense, 3rd down/receiving back alongside Danny Woodhead, 50% of carries (along with Stevan Ridley)