New England Patriots running backs haven't exactly been in the good graces of fantasy football enthusiasts over the past several seasons. They've been the bane of many fantasy owners due to the difficulty of determining what head coach—and mad scientist—Bill Belichick will do with his schemes and personnel on a weekly basis.
Well, this year, Shane Vereen is an exception to that rule.
The fates of the fumble-prone Stevan Ridley and rookie James White are highly undetermined heading into the regular season. Both are incredibly risky selections for fantasy owners at this point in the year given their undetermined workloads. On the other hand, Vereen's role as Tom Brady's predominant pass-catcher out of the backfield is already cemented.
Last season, Vereen began to flash his versatility, rushing 44 times for 208 yards—an average of 4.7 yards per carry—and one touchdown. He also caught 47 passes for 427 yards—an average of 9.1 yards per reception—and three scores.
The fourth-year veteran is able to accumulate those nice averages due to the Patriots' ability to utilize the spread formation.
In 2013, Vereen managed those numbers with an inexperienced wide receiver corps and without a healthy Rob Gronkowski in the fold. With additional threats in the receiving game this season—stretching defenses even thinner—expect things to open up for the running back even more.
Already apparent in the preseason, Vereen has been on the field for many more snaps than the team's other running backs, via Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com:
Shane Vereen leads all Patriots RBs with 26 snaps played in first half. Other RBs: James White (10), Stevan Ridley (6), Jonas Gray (5).— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) August 23, 2014
That trend continued on Friday night when Vereen torched the Carolina Panthers in New England's Week 3 preseason contest. While he only rushed six times for 18 yards, he caught five passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns—including a blazing 40-yard scamper in the second quarter.
Ben Volin of the Boston Herald noted just how dangerous Vereen can be out of the backfield:
Brady catches #Panthers D sleeping, finds Vereen wide open out of hte backfield on the wheel route. Easy catch and run for 40 yard TD— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) August 23, 2014
During a press conference after the game, the running back's efforts were applauded by Belichick, via Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald:
I think [Vereen] made a couple real good plays today. The touchdown was a good awareness play on the goal line. Tom got him the ball, and he outflanked the coverage, was able to turn up and make a real good play to get the ball to the pylon. I thought his blitz pickup and overall running ability throughout the course of camp has shown up repeatedly in a positive way. Shane works hard. He's a very dependable guy. He does a good job for us.
That's about as much praise as anyone can expect from the Patriots head coach.
Due to his skill set and how he's used in New England, Vereen could be considered a poor man's Giovani Bernard for fantasy purposes. He'll get his share of carries out of the backfield, but he generates his greatest threat in the passing game.
That's not too shabby for a running back whose current average draft position is 5.02 in 12-team standard-scoring leagues, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com.
With an abundant need for flex players in the fantasy football realm, Vereen comes with a very low risk and the upside to reward his 2014 fantasy owners handsomely. Draft him with confidence.