This week, fellow Pats Pulpit colleague Alec Shane did an awesome job breaking down each of the Patriots running backs, which had me thinking about the state of the position. In my opinion, there's no question that, compared to most years, the running back position is a bit of an unknown for the Patriots.
The unknown factor is both scary and really exciting. The Patriots running game could be anywhere from an afterthought, to an unstoppable quadruple headed attack in 2012. While chances are it will actually land somewhere in between, the two backs gaining the most buzz appear to be second year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen.
What I've found interesting is that over the last few months, Shane Vereen seems to have gathered a lot of momentum internally - both within the fan base, and within the organization itself (his increased role was very apparent in OTA's and minicamp). To the rest of the football world, however, Stevan Ridley seems to be gaining most of the momentum.
Brian McIntyre of NFL.com is the latest to focus in on Ridley, as he labels the LSU product the Patriots "break-out" candidate heading into 2012:
The Patriots take a committee approach to the running game, and Green-Ellis moving on to the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency has created an opening for a new committee chairman. Candidates for the role include former Indianapolis Colts running back Joseph Addai, Danny Woodhead, and second-year players Shane Vereen and Ridley, who appears to be the back who is best-equipped to replace Green-Ellis.
Ridley played under 20 percent of the Patriots' offensive snaps last season, yet finished second on the team with 87 carries for 441 yards, adding one touchdown. Of Ridley's 87 carries, 51 came on first down, with those runs gaining 274 yards, a 5.4-yard clip that bested Green-Ellis' 3.7 yards per carry on first-down runs. At 5-foot-11 and 223 pounds, Ridley has a similar build to Green-Ellis and should be able to handle the physical pounding of a 200-plus carry season.
Both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen appear to be in line for increased roles heading into the 2012 season. That being said, which of the two do you think will finish the upcoming season with more total touches (or, the more important role)?