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Analyzing the Patriots' Running Back Position Beyond 2014

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With three of seven currently signed running backs about to enter free agency after the 2014 season, the position might be in for some changes.

Gray, tonight's color of choice.
Gray, tonight's color of choice.
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

After Stevan Ridley suffered a season ending knee injury during the Patriots' week 6 match-up against the Buffalo Bills, depth at the running back position became a major question mark for the team. 3rd down specialist Shane Vereen suddenly found himself atop the depth chart, with special teams player Brandon Bolden and rookie James White as the only layers of depth behind him.

Enter Jonas Gray. The former practice squad player was signed to the active roster before the Patriots' week 7 Thursday night game against the New York Jets, and has become the primary back over the course of the last few weeks. His breakout performance came last Sunday night, when he ran for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns in a nationally televised game against the Indianapolis Colts; a performance that earned him the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award.

Enter LeGarrette Blount. After Blount was released by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and went unclaimed, the Patriots decided to bring him back aboard. Due to his signing and the emergence of Jonas Gray, the Patriots seem to have solidified their running back position – at least in 2014.

But how about the future?

Right now, the Patriots have seven running backs under contract. Three of those players, however, are set to enter free agency after the current season is over: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden. The position, therefore, could look a lot different one year from now.

Stevan Ridley

2014: Injured Reserve. 6 games, 94 attempts, 310 yards (3.6 yds/att), 2 TDs; 4 receptions, 20 yards.

2015: Unrestricted free agent.

Stevan Ridley tore his ACL against the Bills, and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. While a fully healthy Ridley would have looked to cash in after this year, potentially outside of New England, his injury changes this outlook. Pending a major setback in his recovery, or a bidding-war with another team, Ridley's chances of returning to the Patriots are now better than possibly ever. The Patriots may opt to offer him a one year contract, with little guaranteed money, but some incentives to sweeten the deal.

Shane Vereen

2014: 10 games, 70 attempts, 328 yards (4.7 yds/att), 1 TD; 35 receptions, 305 yards, 3 TDs.

2015: Unrestricted free agent.

The Patriots' 3rd down back will also enter free agency after this year, but is more likely to look for a big contract than Ridley. However, Vereen also comes with his own questions about his health, as he has missed games in every one of his past three seasons. This year, Vereen has played in every game, and proves to be an integral part of the Patriots' offensive attack. The team probably wants to keep Vereen for the long term, but, similar to Ridley (or every other player ever), it won't enter a potential bidding-war and would instead hand the 3rd down keys over to James White.

Brandon Bolden

2014: 8 games, 15 attempts, 25 yards (1.7 yds/att), 1 TD; 2 receptions, 8 yards.

2015: Restricted free agent.

Bolden's impact as a running back is rather limited (as evidenced by his stats). His true value, though, lies in his special teams play, as he is a key member of all four units. This is the reason why he is still with the Patriots, and this will be the reason the Patriots may choose to re-sign him. Bolden, however, should not expect a big offer by the Patriots. If he signs the deal the Patriots offer, he will stay around (at least until roster cut downs); if not, he is likely gone.

EditAccording to PatsCap.com, Bolden will be a restricted free agent after this year, meaning that the Patriots can sign him to an offer sheet to retain his rights. Since Bolden was an undrafted free agent entering the league, the team might offer him a one-year deal of at least $1.323 million. It is doubtful, however, that the Patriots will offer him much more (for more information on restricted free agency, look at this article over at Cincy Jungle).

Jonas Gray

2014: 4 games, 69 attempts, 332 yards (4.8 yds/att), 4 TDs.

2015: Under contract.

Jonas Gray, practice squad player turned AFC Offensive Player of the Week, will be with the Patriots next year, and possibly beyond, as he is set to become an exclusive rights free agent in 2016. If the Patriots opt to tender him with at least a league minimum contract, they own his rights the following two seasons as well. Therefore, in a best-case scenario, Gray will be with the team until at least the 2018 free agency.

James White

2014: 2 games, 9 attempts, 38 yards (4.2 yds/att); 3 receptions, 15 yards.

2015: Under contract.

As of now, White's rookie year looks more like a redshirt season, as he has only seen snaps in two games. His workload might change, however, if Shane Vereen should not be with the Patriots in 2015.

LeGarrette Blount

2014: 10 games, 65 attempts, 266 yards (4.1 yds/att), 2 TDs; 6 receptions, 36 yards.

2015: Under contract.

After Blount's successful 2013 season with the Patriots, he was looking for greener pastures, which he found in Pittsburgh. 11 regular season games later, he is back in Foxboro. The Patriots, after not placing a waiver claim on him, signed the 27-year-old to a two year deal worth the league minimum, keeping him in New England beyond this year. Blount, who is capable of being a workhorse running back (although he is best suited as a closer), might fight against Jonas Gray for the number one role in 2015.

Tyler Gaffney

2014: Injured Reserve.

2015: Under contract.

Gaffney, who was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft, was claimed by the Patriots after his former team waived him due to a torn meniscus. In his last year at Stanford, Gaffney finished with 330 rushing attempts, 1,709 yards, and 21 touchdowns. Gaffney will potentially be a player to watch in 2015, since he had time to recover and study the playbook. He is signed through 2017.

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A few weeks ago, the Patriots' future at the running back position looked rather blurry. One injury, one emerging practice squad player, and one free agent signing later, it suddenly looks a lot brighter. Even though it is still impossible to tell how the 2015 position depth chart will look like, the picture became a little clearer (and far less scary) those last couple of weeks.

[A word from the author: This is my first article as an official staff member of Pats Pulpit. I want to thank Greg and the entire staff for giving me this chance. Hopefully, you won't be disappointed.]