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There's no exact science to projecting the production of young players, especially those with two career starts to their name. But we'll work with what we've got with regards to Stevan Ridley, who is my projected starter at running back.
While the Patriots' backfield rarely produces a legitimate No. 1 ball carrier, Shane Vereen's lack of size really limits how much he can cut into Ridley's snaps. It'll be interesting to see how that dynamic works itself out and how the team elects to work veterans Danny Woodhead and Joseph Addai into games.
Ridley should receive the bulk of goal-line carries. While he only had one score on his 87 attempts in 2011, he punched 15 touchdowns through as a senior at LSU. New England's activity in the fullback department this offseason may be with the red zone in mind.
In his 2010 season with the Tigers, Ridley was showcased in the offense, receiving 249 carries. He rolled along to a 4.6 YPC average that carried him to 1,147 yards. With the Patriots' line in front of him as a rookie, Ridley looked even more impressive, posting a 5.1 average.
Ridley received 10 or more touches six times in 2011, twice in the preseason. These were games in which Ridley was given an opportunity to establish himself and create a rhythm. He carried the ball 79 times over these six games while collecting 455 yards. That works itself out to a 5.8 YPC average, proving that this is a ball carrier who gets better the more the ball is fed to him.
If Ridley can earn the snaps, he may break the 1,000-yard mark, but it's a big if.
2012 Projected Stat Line: 175 carries, 822 yards, eight TDs