This offseason has not been kind to the fantasy football value of New England’s Tom Brady and the mental health of head coach Bill Belichick.
Wes Welker is in Denver, Danny Woodhead is in San Diego, Aaron Hernandez is in jail and Rob Gronkowski is always on an operating table. So, at least at the beginning of the season, Brady will be throwing to injury-prone Danny Amendola, slow-footed Michael Jenkins, utility man Julian Edelman and a tight end who has not played since tearing his ACL in 2011, Jake Ballard.
New England has to be in panic mode. The same goes for many fantasy football owners. But what about the ones in dynasty and keeper leagues who own running back Stevan Ridley? Could the drama surrounding New England’s aerial attack help him get a few more hand-offs and touches and make him a top-10 fantasy running back?
Here is the fantasy lowdown on Ridley, how he was in 2012, what he may do in 2013 and all of the Patriots running backs who might block his fantasy value from
Conventional wisdom suggests that, without Hernandez, the injured Gronkowski and the departed Welker, New England will pass less and run more in 2013. If that holds true than Ridley would definitely be the biggest benefactor and become a sure top-10 fantasy running back—you would think.
Ridley is coming off a superb fantasy season where he rushed for 1,263 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Running behind an experienced, above-average offensive line helped. So did having Brady as his quarterback, which kept defenses from stacking eight men in the box to shut down the run. But Ridley’s straight-ahead speed and slashing style were the main reason he prospered.
Ridley does have his fantasy faults, though. He is of zero use in the passing game—six receptions for 51 yards last season. He also found himself on the sidelines for long stretches due to multiple reasons. Because of his untimely fumbles, Ridley was sat down for several possessions in games in favor of backs with fewer fumble fingers. Belichick hates turnovers as much as any head coach.
And there were also games where the Patriots plan called for more passing, especially in the hurry-up offense. So, since Ridley is rarely used in passing situations, he would have to watch Woodhead and others with better pass-catching skills get the playing time.
Now, I think New England will run the ball more often this season, at least until Gronkowski returns. But I do not think that automatically translates into greater numbers and a higher fantasy value for the talented Mr. Ridley.
As is New England’s way, the Patriots have stocked their roster with versatile running backs who can all take touches away from Ridley. Here is the rundown:
Vereen was lost in the running back shuffle last season since he was at times No. 3 or No. 4 on the depth chart, but he broke out in a big way in the playoffs, when he snagged five passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns while also running for 41 yards and an additional score in New England’s playoff win over the Houston Texans.
Vereen is not the natural runner Ridley is, but because he can make plays in the passing game, he will certainly keep Ridley off the field on third downs. He is what made Woodhead expendable in the offseason and he will help keep Ridley’s fantasy worth from skyrocketing.
Remember this guy? It may seem like ancient history, but Bolden had a game last September against the defensively challenged Buffalo Bills where he ran for 137 yards and a touchdown. He was battling Ridley for carries back then, and Bolden showed surprising speed for a bulky back. He averaged a hearty 4.9 yards per carry when he played.
But Bolden was suspended for four games after failing a drug test and was never given much of a chance when his suspension was over. He stayed in Belichick’s dog house longer than your average Fido.
Bolden might get back into New England’s good graces during training camp, though. All he has to do is stay clean and injury-free and show his skills on the field. If that happens, then he becomes a huge threat to Ridley’s numbers.
Washington is one of the best kickoff returners in NFL history, which is probably the main reason why New England brought him in. His effectiveness on offense is nowhere near what it used to be, though, so he is a minimal threat to Ridley.
Washington did not do much with the Seattle Seahawks other than return kicks and make trips to Starbucks. The 30-year-old only had 23 rushing attempts and four receptions last season. And those totals should not quadruple or quintuple with the Patriots.
With Vereen younger and more talented at this stage of their careers, Washington will not be the third-down back unless there are formations where Vereen is split out wide while Washington is in the backfield. That is the only way Washington could hurt Ridley’s fantasy worth.
Blount went from a starting running back to a rarely used backup quicker than Calvin Johnson runs a slant pattern. He rushed for 1,000 yards in his rookie campaign in 2010, yet last season he was a silent bystander while Doug Martin zigged and zagged all over the field for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Blount ended up with 151 rushing yards and a few perplexed fantasy owners.
New England got Blount on the cheap. Consider him the Patriots’ blue-light special. At best, Blount is the fourth running back on the depth chart on a team that normally passes more than it runs. He has below-average hands, so he won’t be on the field on third downs. And for a 245-pound back he is suspiciously awful in short-yardage situations, so he should not take any of Ridley’s touchdowns away.
The only possible way for Blount to cause Ridley any fantasy harm is if Belichick and the team’s offensive gurus somehow turn Blount into another Antowain Smith during training camp. There is a better chance of Blount getting cut before that happens, however.
And do not forget about...
Tebow is not a running back...yet. But who knows what positions he will play with the Pats? He could line up as a tailback, tight end, wide receiver, quarterback or waterboy. Heck, Stephen Gostkowski may have to look over his shoulder after a couple shanked field goal attempts for fear that Tebow could come in to kick!
The problem for Ridley, and possibly for Brady, is if Tebow is given the ball down by the goal line. Tebow can find the end zone as well as he can find a church. So if Tebow has his number called inside the five-yard-line a few times, this might make it harder for Ridley to have another 12-TD season.
The final fantasy projection for Ridley—He will be New England’s top rusher, but instead of building on last season’s breakout year, he is going to have his fantasy value sliced and diced by Vereen, Bolden, Tebow and by defenses keying on him more often now that New England’s receiving corps is not as strong as it once was.
Ridley will be a decent fantasy pick and run for 1,200 yards and nine touchdowns, but if you want 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns, you are better off drafting Houston’s Arian Foster or Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy. He will be a fantasy force, but not a top-10 RB.
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