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This Stevan Ridley stat may mean no Patriots reunion

After Stevan Ridley’s release this week, the Patriots could re-sign him, but tracking his progress over the years doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

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Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The third week of the preseason is supposed to be the most exciting week of the preseason (which is, admittedly, an oxymoron).  Instead, Bill Belichick and the Patriots front office are wheeling and dealing like it’s the first week of free agency.

First up was the Bryan Stork trade for a conditional seventh-round pick.  Then on Thursday, Trader Bill added the fifth (!) former first-round pick that the Patriots have acquired this offseason – former Cleveland Browns linebacker and top-10 pick Barkevious Mingo.

The other four first-rounders were Jonathan Cooper, Shea McClellin, Chris Long, and Donald Brown, if you were curious.

All the while, the Detroit Lions released a player that, just two years ago, was popping champagne and dancing with Robert Kraft and Rick Ross after the Patriots snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the Super Bowl – running back Stevan Ridley.

Of course, it didn’t take long for people – us at the Pulpit included – to start imagining a potential reunion with Ridley to add a big back to New England’s depth chart.

Pro Football Reference has Stevan Ridley listed at 5’11’’ and 230 on the scale.  That’s almost identical to Tyler Gaffney (6’0’’, 220lbs) and Brandon Bolden (5’11, 220lbs), while outweighing all the pass-catching backs (Dion Lewis, James White, and DJ Foster) by at least 25 lbs.

Bet you think we’re going to talk about Ridley’s fumbling problems in 2013 now, right?

Nope.  That was a nightmare stretch for Stevan, for sure, but not only did he not fumble at all on 94 carries in 2014 before tearing his ACL in October, or in any of his 36 carries with the Jets, there’s a stat staring you in the face that just can’t be written off as a stretch of playing badly.

Check out Ridley’s yards per carry – and also notice how many carries he’s logged – in each of his five NFL seasons so far.

2011:  87 rushes for 441 yards = 5.1 yards per carry

2012:  290 rushes for 1,263 yards = 4.4 yards per carry

2013:  178 rushes for 773 yards = 4.3 yards per carry

2014:  94 rushes for 340 yards = 3.6 yards per carry (this was the year he tore his ACL in Week 6)

2015:  36 carries for 90 yards = 2.5 yards per carry

If you want to see that trend in graph form, go get yourself a ski pass and then ride the chairlift to the top.  Then start skiing.

There’s one good possible explanation for Ridley’s yards per carry falling off a cliff – if you remember, 2014 was the year Logan Mankins got shipped out to Tampa Bay and Dave DeGuglielmo took over for offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.  After losing several of the pieces that made the Patriots O-line a brick wall for years, like Mankins and Dan Koppen, that could be part of it.

But in New York?  You could still argue, convincingly, that the line didn’t do Steve any favors.  Pro Football Focus ranked the Jets o-line 26th out of 32 at the end of the season last year, even though it was packed full of household names like D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, and Breno Giacomini.

Which is more likely, though – that Stevan Ridley is just as good as he was in his 2012 heyday, playing behind bad lines, or that his ACL injury and hundreds of NFL (and college) carries have caught up to the 27-year-old?

It’s easy these days to think of ACL surgery just like a broken bone, since so many guys like Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady have bounced back and not missed a beat, but it’s important to remember a torn ACL used to be a career-ending injury.  Plenty of guys in all kinds of sports come back from torn ACLs and look like they never left.  The punishment running backs take almost every time they carry the ball, though, catches up to everyone sooner or later.

Barring (knock on wood) another injury at the running back position, Stevan Ridley, while his kick-in-the-door touchdown dance will always make New England happy, probably isn’t suiting up for the Patriots again anytime soon.