How Shane Vereen Can Become the Patriots' Biggest Offensive Weapon

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How Shane Vereen Can Become the Patriots' Biggest Offensive Weapon
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The biggest offensive weapon on the New England Patriots is...Shane Vereen

In a recent column, Karen Guregian of The Boston Herald suggested the third-year running back "has the best potential to be a breakout performer this season."

While seemingly outlandish on the surface, Guregian may actually be onto something.

Heck, the Patriots will be without their top four—maybe five, depending on the health of Rob Gronkowski—pass-catchers from a year ago, but with Tom Brady still throwing the passes, someone has to break out, right? 

First, let's look at Vereen the player, then examine how he can become a dynamic threat for New England in 2013. 

The 5'10'', 210-pound Vereen was picked in the second round of the 2011 draft, 17 picks ahead of now presumed feature back Stevan Ridley

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At the combine that year, the former California Bear ran a 4.50 40-yard dash, and his 31 reps on the bench press were the second-most of any running back in attendance. 

His agility times weren't prolific in relation to others at his position but entered the NFL with a reputation of being an outside, third-down scatback more than anything else. 

During his illustrious career at Cal, Vereen averaged 5.1 yards per carry and also averaged nearly 25 grabs and 225 receiving yards over his three seasons in Jeff Tedford's offense. wrote the following about Vereen's specific skill set: "terrific pass catcher out of the back field that will keep the chains moving. Possesses great hands and instincts as a receiver."

Pass-catching running backs have been a favorite of Brady's for years, and Bill Belichick has shown that he knows precisely how to tap into their potential.

Kevin Faulk, a player who certainly could be likened to Vereen from a physical perspective, averaged an impressive 40.6 receptions for 350.7 yards over a 10-year span from 2000 to 2009 with the Patriots. 

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While those skeptical of Faulk-like production from Vereen shouldn't be deemed foolish, as he has a mere eight career regular season catches, we mustn't forget how Danny Woodhead emerged from absolute obscurity and became an efficient weapon for the Patriots.

Woodhead was acquired after the New York Jets released him at the start of the 2010 season. The 5'9'', 200-pound lightning bug broke out with 547 rushing yards at 5.6 yards per carry and had 34 catches for 379 yards en route to a 926-yards-from-scrimmage campaign that year. 

How many yards from scrimmage will Shane Vereen finish with in 2013?

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Woodhead wasn't used as frequently in the running game in 2012, but he caught 40 passes for 446 yards and three receiving touchdowns. 

Vereen did show flashes of big-play potential last season, remember that. He took a swing pass 83-yards to the house on Thanksgiving against the New York Jets and scorched the C Texans with five grabs for 83 yards and two touchdowns in the opening round of the playoffs. 

As the clear-cut No. 2 running back, he should receive his fair share of carries as well, after getting 62 attempts in his sophomore season. 

Based on how Faulk and Woodhead were used in the past, for Vereen, 75 carries, 375 rushing yards, 45 catches and 500 receiving yards seem to be reasonable—or maybe even conservative.   

More athletic than Faulk and more powerful than Woodhead, two players who were yards-from-scrimmage studs with the Patriots, Shane Vereen certainly looks to be the type of player who can earn Brady's trust and emerge as a dangerous offensive weapon for the Patriots this season. 

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