Stevan Ridley has arguably been the New England Patriots' best player not named Tom Brady in 2012. The second-year man out of LSU has been the primary beneficiary of the Patriots' new balanced offense and has taken his opportunity in stride.
Through five games this season, Ridley is fourth in the NFL with 490 yards and tied for the NFL lead with four rushing touchdowns. With the next three games on the Patriots schedule coming against the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and St. Louis Rams, the workload could stay steady and constant for Ridley, as each game has blowout potential.
However, 2012 has not been a season of garbage time carries for Ridley and the Patriots. Once a pass-first, pass-second, pass-third offense, the Patriots ran the ball 54 times against just 31 pass attempts on Sunday, doing so with great success.
Ridley is currently averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has looked strong in each of his five outings this season. He seamlessly blends speed and power, and as sportscaster Phil Simms noted several times on Sunday, he hits the hole fast and hard without hesitation—something Laurence Maroney simply never mastered.
Still, the idea of a Patriots running back winning the NFL's rushing title seems crazy. This is, after all, still Brady's team, and Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez still produce at a high level.
In years past, the Patriots' hurry-up offense would scare people off a concept like this. However, in 2012, the Patriots run out of this set up almost as much as they throw. With the Patriots building leads like they have the past few weeks, the running game has taken precedent for the first time since Corey Dillon was in the backfield.
As it stands today, Ridley is on pace for 1,568 yards—that is, if he stays at his current 98 yards-per-game average. Should he have a couple big games along the way, that number could creep higher and make sure his name gets to the top of the NFL rushing leaderboard come Week 17.