Stevan Ridley Will Return to Fantasy Prominence in Absence of Shane Vereen

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 24:  Stevan Ridley #22 of the New England Patriots stiff arms Cameron Wake #91 of the Miami Dolphins during the fourth quarter of New England's 27-24 win at Gillette Stadium on December 24, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

After being benched following a fumble in Week 1 and watching Shane Vereen tear up the Buffalo Bills defense, things looked bleak for New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley. The third-year back suddenly has new life, though, and he will be a huge fantasy asset moving forward.

After a 2012 campaign that saw him rush for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns, Ridley was an early second-round selection in most fantasy football drafts this summer. With quarterback Tom Brady having to rely on less-than-ideal weapons in the passing game, the prevailing thought was that head coach Bill Belichick would lean on the running game more than ever.

That seemed to be true early in Week 1, as Ridley racked up 46 yards on nine carries in the early going, but his failure to hang onto the football did him in. Ridley very nearly fumbled on the Pats' first drive, and he ultimately did a bit later, which led to Bills safety Da'Norris Searcy returning it all the way for a touchdown.

He didn't see any action for the remainder of the game, as Vereen thrived to the tune of 101 rushing yards and seven receptions for 58 yards. All signs pointed toward Vereen taking over as the featured back, but it turns out that he suffered a wrist injury during the game, according to Pro Football Talk.

Vereen was originally only supposed to miss a couple weeks, but the injury was worse than initially thought, as Vereen was placed on injured reserve with a designated to return distinction, which means he will miss at least eight weeks, according to Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe.

While that is a stake in the heart of Vereen owners who thought they had a major steal on their hands, it is a huge break for Ridley owners. Ridley seemed poised to be the year's biggest fantasy bust after what happened on Sunday, but he is suddenly in line to live up to his potential, and then some.

Truth be told, Ridley is one of the few offensive players that Belichick can count on aside from Brady. Belichick clearly didn't show much trust in Ridley on Sunday, but the LSU product proved last year that he is capable of being a quality bell-cow back in the NFL.

Brady's receiving corps was extremely thin heading into the season, as Wes Welker signed with the Denver Broncos, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd were released and Rob Gronkowski is not fully recovered from offseason back and forearm surgeries.

Vereen, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were Brady's go-to guys in Week 1, but two-thirds of that equation will be absent on Thursday night against the New York Jets. Vereen is guaranteed to be out long term, and Amendola is "almost certain" to miss the Pats' Week 2 contest due to a groin injury, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

If that isn't enough bad luck for the Patriots, rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld is nursing a hamstring injury, which means that he could be out Thursday as well, according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe.

That will leave Brady with Ridley, Edelman and rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson to lean on, so it's safe to say that Ridley will see his fair share of touches in Week 2. Even if Belichick doesn't necessarily believe in Ridley, he has no choice to entrust him on Thursday and moving forward.

Even plodder LeGarrette Blount was favored over Ridley as the game wore on Sunday, but he gained just 15 yards on seven carries, so Ridley will be pressed into action by default. Maybe Belichick is unsure of his ability to get it done, but Brady is confident that Ridley will bounce back, according to Mike Reiss of

The Patriots running back situation is always beyond annoying for fantasy owners, but Ridley really took charge last year. Vereen and current San Diego Charger Danny Woodhead certainly got plenty of work as well, but Ridley was unquestionably the guy that Belichick went to when he needed to convert in short yardage, score a touchdown or run the clock out late in the game.

With that in mind, Ridley should be able to approach the statistics that he put up last year. He'll obviously need to do a better job of holding onto the ball, but he lost just two fumbles last season, so fumbling isn't an affliction that has plagued him over the course of his career by any means.

Ridley isn't regaining his job because it's Belichick's preference, but the circumstances behind it are unimportant at this point. Ridley has to produce in order for the Pats to have any measure of success this season, and he will, which bodes well for fantasy teams everywhere as well.


Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter