The Patriots have a fun offense. The Lions have a snappy offense, too. And both teams boast handy backs who can catch the ball. So when push comes to shove and you need some PPR running-back love (I can hear Andy Behrens booing), who are you looking to in the middle rounds?
Del Don Opens: I’m going to be the underdog here, as Bush totaled 1,512 yards last season over 14 games, whereas Vereen got just 635 yards from scrimmage (albeit in just eight games). I’m guessing Bush will be drafted higher in the vast majority of leagues (his ADP is 36 spots higher), but I’m not here to argue Vereen relative to cost, as I have him higher on my RB ranks. I’ll try to defend my apparent minority position the best I can.
Vereen has without question been an injury risk during his early stint in the NFL, but Bush has appeared in 16 games just once since his rookie season back in 2006, so he’s not exactly the most durable back and is exactly four years older (coincidentally, these two share a birthday). The main concern with Bush is Detroit’s hiring of OC Joe Lombardi, who had been with the Saints since 2007 (a span in which Bush averaged 92.3 carries during their four years together in New Orleans). Meanwhile, Joique Bell was given a $9.4 million contract during the offseason and is the favorite to lead Detroit in rushing attempts in 2014.
Vereen isn’t going to be a 200-carry back (he might not even be a 150-carry one), but New England beat writers expect him to easily lead all the team’s backs in snaps (Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 17 most valuable RB in the NFL last year despite missing half the season - his 297 snaps ranked No. 48 among RBs). His real value comes as a receiver, as Vereen saw 69 targets over eight games last season. Those 8.6 targets/game easily led all RBs (the next highest was Jamaal Charles at 6.9, and the third most was Matt Forte at 5.9). Wide receivers such as Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Larry Fitzgerald saw fewer targets/game.
Bush is looking at a reduced workload and is now 29 years old. Meanwhile, Vereen’s trajectory is pointing up, and he should be a big part of a New England offense that somehow managed to score the third most points in the NFL last season despite getting destroyed by injuries.
Pianow Closes: I love how D3 called himself the underdog up front. I can hear the Rocky music; I can imagine Dalton doing crunches and running up and down the stairs. Pain is temporary, glory lasts forever.
My angle won't be nearly as dramatic.
First and foremost, the New England backfield has more potential gridlock. Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden - they're all expected to have a role. Rookie James White has become a buzzy player this summer. Bill Belichick might be the most cryptic coach in the league when it comes to disclosing player roles and expected usage. It's like the Patriots take perverse joy in throwing everyone for a game-day loop, time and again. Meanwhile, Bush and Bell figure to get almost all of Detroit's meaningful running-back snaps; it's a more streamlined situation.
Bush is a little misunderstood as a player. While he's far from the ironman of the league, he's only missed three games over the last three years. He hasn't returned a kick since 2011, and that seems to be helping his durability. Bush is also improving as a runner - he's older but wiser. He averaged less than four yards a carry in his first three New Orleans seasons, but he's at 4.7 a pop since then. We're talking about 772 rushing attempts, a meaty sample.
I realize Bell is ready to take on more of the Detroit workload, but the Lions aren't kicking Bush to the curb. Sometimes the boring old veteran pick - the Ibanez All-Star, if you will - is the proper selection. This is one of those times. I'm not getting tripped up by Belichick Roulette. Get out the old VCR, it's time for Reggie Vision.