Stevan Ridley's fantasy value remains a riddle, thus clouding where he should be targeted in your upcoming draft(s).
The New England Patriots list the 25-year-old as one of the starting running backs in their unofficial depth chart, but he may be slowly falling out of favor with head coach Bill Belichick all over again. Phil Perry of CSNNE.com reported on Wednesday that Ridley wasn't taking snaps with the first team:
Stevan Ridley appeared to get most of his repetitions with Ryan Mallett and the second-team offense on Wednesday. James White got a number of reps with Brady and the first-team offense, as did Shane Vereen. White has impressed the Patriots coaching staff and his own teammates this summer, and his emergence could have implications for Ridley's use. Still, as Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi note here, when given his opportunities, Ridley has run hard and held onto the ball.
The uncertainty surrounding Ridley's role is scaring off fantasy owners. According to ESPN.com, his average draft position is 77.7, which ranks 30th among running backs. He's listed behind fellow Patriot Shane Vereen, Trent Richardson, Toby Gerhart and rookie Bishop Sankey, among others.
On the plus side, a couple of key factors are working in Ridley's favor.
The first is that LeGarrette Blount is in Pittsburgh. That's one less guy to worry about as competition, at least on paper. Ridley and Shane Vereen could hypothetically split enough time that both become viable fantasy options, Ridley more for his running and Vereen in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues for his receiving.
The former LSU Tiger is also entering a contract year. Few motivators are stronger than having the chance to add a couple million more to your bank account after a strong season.
"For me, going on year four, it’s about time I step in there and if the team calls on me and wants me to take that leadership role, that’s what I’m going to do," said Ridley, per Mark Daniels of The Providence Journal. "It’s kind of strange going from being one of the youngest guys in the room to one of the oldest, but time does that to you."
If there were ever a time for a breakthrough season, it's now for Ridley.
That's the good.
The bad is that Ridley's fumble problems won't be soon forgotten by Belichick. When you get in the doghouse with him, you might as well take a few magazines and make sure your cellphone's fully charged because you're going to be there a while.
Belichick is a pragmatist. He won't think twice about starting Vereen or elevating James White—as he's apparently doing in practice—if he thinks it will help the team.
Spending a fourth-round draft pick on a running back isn't throwing something at the wall and hoping it sticks. That's a conscious strategy on the part of the team. The Patriots didn't draft White simply to leave him on the bench.
ESPN.com's Matthew Berry believes that the rookie rusher could end up eating into Vereen's and Ridley's fantasy value:
If it wasn't clear, I agree James White is a nice sleeper. Vereen can't stay healthy, Ridley fumble issues, Bill not afraid to use any RB— Matthew Berry (@MatthewBerryTMR) August 2, 2014
White even received the stamp of approval from Tom Brady himself.
"He’s done a great job since he’s got here. He’s got a real maturity for someone who is just getting out of college," the quarterback said, per Shalise Manza Young of The Boston Globe. "He’s made a lot of really great plays out here. We’re all trying to work to get better, and we’re all trying to make improvements."
Whatever opportunity opened up with Blount's departure is slowly closing with White's emergence in training camp.
Given Vereen's injury history, Ridley should see the field during the regular season. The question is whether that will happen enough to make him a valuable investment.
Unless Belichick comes out and publicly declares Ridley as his starting running back for Week 1, you're much better off focusing on other options as your No. 2 running back. It's no sure thing that he'll receive enough playing time to be worthy of RB2 status except in extremely deep standard leagues.