Patriots running back Shane Vereen has seen a rise in fantasy football recently. Over the last month his average draft position has risen from round eight to round six. He has even been taken as high as round four in 12-team leagues.
So why are people so high on the backup running back for New England? He hasn't played much during his two years in the league. He has just 308 rushing yards and eight catches for 149 yards in two seasons.
The departure of Danny Woodhead is a big reason why. Woodhead accounted for 747 rushing and receiving yards along with seven touchdowns last season. That production placed him 24th in standard scoring amongst running backs in fantasy. Vereen is expected to take over Woodhead's role and then some.
With guys like Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez no longer on the roster (and Rob Gronkowski's injuries), the Patriots need to rely on new playmakers for their offense. That's where Vereen enters the picture. These losses, combined with Vereen's versatility, will provide a big role for him this year.
More touches for Vereen could result in a big year. He showed his talent in small doses last season. On his 88 touches (including the post-season) he averaged 6.4 yards and found the endzone seven times.
His talents aren't just limited to the running back position either. Vereen lined up at wide receiver on 19 percent of his snaps last season. On those snaps he caught four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. We can expect to see more of the same this season. According to the Patriots' website he has been lining up at receiver during Spring practice.
The Patriots want to put Vereen in space where he can use his speed and agility to get open. Vereen's 18.6 yards per catch in the regular season proves he can make use of open space. We saw this ability in the playoff game against the Texans when Vereen went past linebacker Barrett Ruud for a 33-yard touchdown.
When talking about Vereen we shouldn't forget about Stevan Ridley. Ridley is the workhorse back in New England. He had 290 carries in 2012, which were the most for a New England back since Corey Dillon in 2004. But even with Ridley, there's enough room for both backs to succeed. We'll likely see both backs on the field at the same time in 2013.
Where Vereen excels is where Ridley lacks. Last season Ridley only had three games where he had at least one reception. The Patriots need a back they can rely on as a receiver and Vereen brings that to them.
Vereen offers more in a PPR league, but he'll be good in standard leagues as well. His floor is Woodhead's season from a year ago and his ceiling is similar to Darren Sproles. Anticipate at least 800 combined rushing/receiving yards with a possibility of 1,000. He could also score close to nine total touchdowns.