Continuing our look at the Patriots roster, the running backs are the main focal point in today's breakdown.
Running Backs currently on the roster:
Let's start with Stevan Ridley and how he might factor into the mix in 2013.
Stevan Ridley was very productive last season in New England. His totals from 2012 look great to the casual fan. He rushed the football 290 times for 1,263 yards and a whopping 12 TDs. There was one big problem that he had that cost the team dearly at times, fumbling the football. In 290 carries, Ridley put the ball on the ground four times. This does not include the fumble in the AFC Championship game against the Ravens. With the way that the Patriots preach ball security, Ridley will need to get his act together quickly in 2013 if he wants to remain the starter. Ridley isn't much of a burner either, as he runs a 4.66 40 time so he will have to rely on patience, vision, and strength, to get yardage. He is a runner that does not go for the homerun play often which can be both good and bad. If he is not careful, he may find himself behind Shane Vereen on the depth chart by season's end. With all of this said, Ridley still has alot of tools that would be appealing to the Patriots. He is a big running back who runs faster on tape than his 40 time would indicate, and he is a decent goal line back. The question is can he fend off Shane Vereen?
As far as Shane Vereen goes, he was also very productive when he was on the field. The problem is, it wasn't until late in the season that he was seeing playing time. His final numbers do not look great on paper as far as yards per carry, but he got a lot of goal line work in the regular season. He ran the ball 62 times for 251 yards and 3 TDs. He also contributed 8 catches for 149 yards and a TD. His biggest contribution came in the AFC Divisional game against the Texans last year. In that game, he scored 3 TDs and totaled 124 yards from scrimmage, showing everyone what he is capable of. With a role as a starter, Vereen could thrive as long as he stays healthy. The problem is that he has had a big problem staying on the field his first two years in the league. If he can keep his body conditioned and remain healthy, Vereen can use his speed (4.5 40) and his hands to become a dual threat for the Patriots. He can hold onto the football too. The only fumble that Vereen has suffered in the league came in a game last season when the field conditions were terrible. In that game, both Ridley and Vereen suffered a fumble. With the skill that Vereen possesses, what he did in the playoffs, and the fumble problems that Ridley has had, don't be surprised if New England decides to make Vereen the lead guy by the end of the season if healthy.
Brandon Bolden is a guy to watch out for if either Ridley or Vereen suffer an injury. Bolden can really play the running back position. He is 5'11'' and runs with authority. He isn't the fastest guy around, but he makes up for it with his patience and ability to hit the hole hard and fast. He has shown the ability to break a few long runs as well. Unfortunately for him, there are two things that hold him back from carving out a large role in the Patriots running attack. The first thing is that he got injured which caused him to slip down the depth chart. The second thing is that he was signed as an undrafted free agent last year. The Patriots invested much more in terms of draft capital on Vereen and Ridley so it is only natural that they are the first in line. Unless he is exceptional and the other two backs are terrible or hurt, he will not see legitimate playing time. expect Bolden to be the third string running back and possibly even fourth with the signing of Leggarette Blount this offseason.
Legarrette Blount was acquired during the draft for a 7th round pick and Olympic sprinter Jeff Demps. Blount is a guy who should only play in short yard situations or if an injury was to occur to either Vereen, Ridley, or Bolden. Blount is a big guy at 6'0'' 247 lbs. He fell out of favor with Tampa Bay with both the emergence of Rookie Doug Martin and his attitude off the field. Blount comes with baggage as he has significant character concerns. In college he punch someone in the face as a member of the Oregon Ducks and has been branded as a guy who "likes to fight" and is immature. With this in mind, Belichick should be able to keep him under control. Blount may find that this is his last chance to prove that he has what it takes to be an NFL RB.
Leon Washington, although he is listed as a running back on the depth chart, will most likely serve as the teams primary kickoff returner in 2013. he has 244 career kick returns for a whopping 6,315 yards and 8 kick return TDs. He is still young at 30, and he is not the typical running back with wear and tear on his legs. He hasn't taken the beating that many running backs do and he has dynamic speed as he runs a 4.42 40 yard dash time. Knowing Bill Belichick, Washington will probably be used in all aspects of the game like rushing, blocking, receiving and other special teams assignments. Expect his main job to be to return punts and/or kickoffs for the Patriots in 2013 though.
Last but not least, we come to George Winn. The undrafted rookie out of Cincinatti was signed this offseason. He is not expected to make much if any, impact in his rookie year. He only started one year at Cincinatti before declaring for the NFL draft. If the Patriots for some reason decide to carry him on their active roster, he would clearly have to contribute exclusively on special teams. I believe it is more realistic for him to either be placed on the practice squad for his rookie season, or even be outright released by the end of training camp, as the team will probably not carry 6 running backs in 2013.