Buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

Examining the Lesser-Known Halfbacks in the New England Patriots’ Stable

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The New England Patriots' halfback position may be headlined by Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, but the rushing committee does go deeper than the two 2011 draft picks.

Four deeper, to be exact.

Although not all six Patriots tailbacks will secure a spot on the final roster, all of whom have an opportunity do so.

Through OTAs, minicamp, training camp and preseason games, the running back depth chart will undergo a process of natural selection. Magnetized nameplates will be removed from the personnel board as head coach Bill Belichick and Co. try to shed the team from 90 men to eventually 53.

But don't fret, September is a ways off. For now, we can acquaint ourselves with the New England's ball-carrying options not named "Ridley" or "Vereen."

Brandon Bolden

Brandon Bolden is a familiar face with a chance to earn an expanded role in 2013 after making the team as an undrafted rookie last season. The Ole Miss product played in 10 regular season games in 2012, garnering 56 carries for 274 yards and two touchdowns, also catching two passes for 11 yards.

At 5'11", 220 pounds, Bolden proved to be a bruiser when given extended work. His strongest performance came against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 30, as he amassed 137 yards and a score on just 16 carries.

Bolden's momentum was halted by a knee injury and subsequent four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances on Nov. 9. He carried the ball only 19 times after rejoining the team, playing primarily on special teams while occasionally stealing snaps from Vereen.

At just 23 years old, Bolden has a shot to be the No. 3 halfback in the carousel. He's a better receiving threat than he's given credit for. And although he's a straight-line runner, the former Runnin' Rebel is a smooth runner.

Leon Washington

Leon Washington inked one-year, $1.3 million deal with the Patriots this offseason after spending the first seven years of his NFL career between the New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks. The 30-year-old Florida State alum hasn't garnered more than 53 carries or 10 receptions in a campaign since 2009. But that doesn't make him any less of a dynamic threat to have on hand in Foxboro.

What Washington lacks in terms of size -- he's 5'8" and 203 pounds -- he makes up for in terms of speed. He is regarded as an open-field burner who can filter in if needed on third downs. That said, his greatest value to the Patriots is his niche as punt and kick returner. The Florida State product has been voted to two Pro Bowls as a return specialist. Last season, Washington averaged 29 years per kick return and 8.9 yards per punt return while also recording a return TD.

It'd be unrealistic to think of Washington as Danny Woodhead's replacement. He's more so a Jeff Demps replacement. Either way, he's a serviceable player with the potential to be a home run hitter.

LeGarrette Blount

Speaking of Jeff Demps replacements, the 6'0", 247-pound LeGarrette Blount is anything but. The Patriots shipped Demps and a seventh-round pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the former 1,000-yard rusher, but it remains to be seen what sort of role the Patriots have in mind for him.

Despite having the exterior of a linebacker, Blount isn't a bruising short-yardage back. Instead, Blount has a rare mixture of nimble footwork and broad shoulders. Somewhere along the line, that skillset attributed to Blount registering a dismal 3.6 yards per carry in 2012, which made him expendable for Tampa head coach -- and Belichick confidant -- Greg Schiano.

The 26-year-old ex-Oregon Duck has good value to the Patriots. And that's especially true seeing how he took a $1 million pay cut to join the team, according to Brian McIntyre of Yahoo! Sports. If he proves to be a low-risk, high-reward back for New England, it will be because he makes the final roster.

Akeem Shavers

The most anonymous member of the Patriots' tailback group is undrafted rookie Akeem Shavers. Like Blount, Shavers was picked up from the Buccaneers. But this time, the acquisition was by way of the waiver wire.

Judging by the eight Rutgers Scarlet Knights on New England's roster, Belichick and Schiano have a similar taste in players. And although Shavers was not a Rutgers descendant, he was under Schiano's tutelage for a week in Tampa -- apparently just long enough for Belichick to take notice.

Shavers is a 5'11", 203-pound Purdue Boilermaker who transferred from Tyler Junior College. During his first year in West Lafayette, Shavers amassed 519 rushing yards, 58 receiving yards and seven total scores. He bettered his numbers as a senior in 2012, racking up 871 rushing yards, 370 receiving yards and nine total scores.

Positional Outlook

New England has a wide assortment of rushers to choose from to fill the back end of the depth chart. But who will do so?

For some reference, the Patriots carried four running backs and no fullbacks following the final roster cuts on August 31. If that holds true once again this year, then look for two of the aforementioned four rushers to make the team.

At a glance, Bolden and Washington appear to be the two most likely to stick. Bolden's blend of youth and downhill power, along with Washington's blend of experience and speed could make for a very viable second tier of the depth chart.

Then again, it is May. There's a reason the games don't count until September.

Oliver Thomas is a Yahoo! contributor who also covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for Bleacher Report and NEPatriotsDraft.

You can follow Oliver on Twitter @OliverBThomas.

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Football
View Comments (1)