I can’t remember the last time the Patriots had a featured back. Their committee approach has been such a fantasy nightmare that many owners, me included, simply avoid them.
This year is no different with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead and Joseph Addai. We’re approaching 2012 with the same question as always, “Which back do you target in your fantasy drafts?”
This offseason BenJarvus Green-Ellis signed with the Bengals leaving most fantasy owners and NFL analysts believing Ridley would be the lead back. While probably true, it's not a given. Vereen is a higher draft pick (second round), and Addai could have enough left in the tank to usurp the position. We know the Patriots have a great history in bringing in older veterans and maximizing whatever fumes they have left in the tank.
A six-year veteran with the Colts, Addai has been a fantasy nightmare for his owners the past two seasons, playing in only 20 games because of various injuries. In 2011 he ended with an average of 9.8 attempts for 36.1 yards and 0.08 TDs with 1.2 catches for 7.75 yards and no TDs receiving in 14 games. In his six-year career he has an average of 224.6 attempts for 913.44 yards and eight TDs rushing with 39.18 catches for 297.03 yards and 1.85 TDs. A per-game average of 16.5 touches for 75.65 yards from scrimmage and 0.62 TDs. Easily middle-of-the-road No. 2 fantasy numbers.
Associate editor Kevin Fishbain notes that, in his six seasons, Addai is tied for fourth in the league inside the 10-yard line with 212 rushing yards and 30 TDs on 106 carries. At 5-11 and 214 pounds, it's his experience and versatility, not size, that make him an asset inside the 10-yard line and the red zone. A solid blocker and pass receiver, he also only has seven career fumbles, which is a trademark head coach Bill Belichick values. Ridley was benched toward the end of the season with fumblitis and saw no utilizations in either the AFC championship game (inactive) or Super Bowl. That's a clear indictment from the coaching staff, and one reason they probably brought Addai in.
While not a lock to make the roster unless he’s completely washed up, Addai provides insurance and depth. I’m not excluding the outside chance he could outright win the starting job, which makes him a late-round flier in your draft. I won’t hold the Colts' 2011 disaster season against him or any other player on that squad. Training camp and the preseason will determine his value.
Ridley is No. 1 on the current depth chart and, from Weeks 15-17 last season, averaged 13 attempts for 70 yards. He flashed enough talent with 5.1 yards per carry to raise 2012 expectations, including five carries for 20 yards or longer. No other Patriots back had a 20-yard carry. At 5-11¼ and 225 pounds he is more of an inside runner with soft hands and is willing to block.
The higher draft pick, Vereen, has soft hands and can split out but is not a good blocker. Despite being 5-10¼ and 210 pounds, he fits more the committee approach than a three-down role, with his strength being used as a perimeter rusher. His fantasy value seems to have a lower ceiling than Ridley’s despite being the higher draft pick. Last season Vereen dealt with a hamstring injury and did not play in 11 games and only saw carries in two. If these two players can develop as the team hopes, they are the future, and fantasy owners in deep dynasty leagues should look toward a draft-and-stash approach.
Danny Woodhead is a coach and fan favorite who compensates for his lack of talent with a will to succeed. Fantasy owners may admire that, but in a limited role he produced only 77-351-1 rushing and 18-157-0 receiving on 31 targets last season. Truthfully, he has minimal fantasy value and, at 5-9 and 200 pounds, is the smallest of the group and the least talented in natural skills. We can’t forget Brandon Bolden for dynasty league owners because he broke his ankle in the first game of the 2011 season at Ole Miss and went undrafted. Before that he was seen as a mid- to late-round draft pick but is still recovering from the injury, making him a nonfactor right now.
Veteran Kevin Faulk stated he would like to return, but Addai’s skills — similar to Faulk’s — make him expendable.
If you draft before late August, view this as a committee approach with a forecast of Ridley being a No. 3 fantasy or flex position back with expectations of 7-9 touchdowns. Vereen and Addai become late-round, flier picks, with my belief right now that Addai has greater value. If you draft in late August or early September, training camp will determine the pecking order, but unless Ridley falters, there is minimum value with the rest of the backs.