LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden, who excels on special teams, are going to be on next year's roster. There will be one pass-catching back; whether that player is Shane Vereen or James White or someone else remains to be seen. If Stevan Ridley is re-signed, that's four running backs. There will also be competition from Tyler Gaffney, a 6-foot-1, 227-pound back who spent his rookie season on injured reserve. So Gray will probably have to prove himself in the offseason.
Vereen, who had 11 receptions in the Super Bowl, is a free agent. He probably won't cost the team a ton (for reference, Danny Woodhead got a two year, $3.5 million contract from San Diego in 2013).
The Patriots let Woodhead walk because they also had Vereen, so their decision may be based on their depth at the position. If they feel confident that rising second-year pro James White can fill Vereen's spot, you might not see No. 34 in a Pats uniform come next fall.
Part of Vereen's appeal is that he plays in a friendly system, but he lacks consistency, even in PPR formats. The team's willingness to re-sign Vereen will likely come down to price.
The Ravens have only allowed five touchdowns to tight ends in the regular season, and they held Jimmy Graham to 47 yards receiving. Do the Ravens have a chance of slowing down Rob Gronkowski, or do you throw out those numbers because he is on a different level?
Patriots beat writer Mike Reiss: They can definitely slow Gronkowski, but it will come at a cost. One of the most impressive things about Gronkowski’s season to me is how his 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns hardly tell the whole story. It’s plays like touchdown catches by Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen against the Broncos on Nov. 2 that highlight his true value because there were three to four defenders swarming around Gronkowski in the end zone, creating those one-on-one opportunities for Julian Edelman and Shane Vereen. That was pretty commonplace this season with Gronkowski, who is a pure combination tight end in the sense that he can also dominate as a blocker when he wants; it's not just catching the ball. So I’d be surprised if the Ravens can slow Gronkowski consistently with just one player like safety Will Hill. But if they want to devote extra resources to it, they can probably dictate the ball going elsewhere, and the Patriots have shown the ability to capitalize when that happens.
The Ravens are one of the tougher run defenses in the NFL, ranking fourth this season in holding opponents to an average of 88.3 yards per game and not allowing a 100-yard rusher in the past 27 games. They are a sturdy front seven and with this in mind, it's hard to imagine the Patriots go with a heavy diet of bigger personnel and a power-running approach. Instead, a more likely scenario is that the Patriots attempt to manipulate matchups in hopes of lightening the box and getting the Ravens into sub packages to test their overall quality and depth in the defensive backfield, which is their primary area of vulnerability. For the Patriots to do this, adding a second tight end with more of a pass-catching profile, third receiver, or second running back makes sense. This is where Wright, a "move" tight end, could be a bigger factor. When blocking-based tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is paired with Rob Gronkowski, it usually results in opponents playing base defense. But when Wright is paired with Gronkowski, it has sometimes been sub because he's more of a pass-catching threat. The Patriots have had success going up-tempo with that grouping as well, so we could envision Wright being a bigger part of the plan Saturday, with receiver Danny Amendola and running back Brandon Bolden (in a two-back set with Shane Vereen) as other options.
Wright's production has been spotty, but when the Patriots have called his number, he has usually delivered.
Friday, December 26, 2014, 6:53pm
Patriots RB Shane Vereen (ankle, questionable) took limited practice reps all week and is questionable for Week 17. Vereen should continue to play through the questionable tag, but the workload status of all the Patriot starters is very much up in the air in what amounts to a meaningless game.
Friday, December 19, 2014, 6:02pm
Patriots RB Shane Vereen (ankle, questionable) took limited practice reps all week and is questionable for Week 16. Vereen should continue to play through the injury. If New England struggles to run between the tackles, they may turn to Vereen in the short passing game to move the chains.
Thursday, December 18, 2014, 6:14pm
Patriots RB Shane Vereen (ankle) took limited practice reps again Thursday. Vereen should be fine to face the Jets. If New England struggles to run between the tackles, they may turn to Vereen in the short passing game to move the chains.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 5:57pm
Patriots RB Shane Vereen (ankle) took limited practice reps Wednesday. Vereen should be fine to face the Jets. If New England struggles to run between the tackles, they may turn to Vereen in the short passing game to move the chains.
Friday, December 12, 2014, 6:26pm
Patriots RB Shane Vereen (ankle, questionable) took limited practice reps all week and is questionable for Week 15. Vereen has been pretty quiet of late, so he’s nothing more than a RB3/flex, even in PPR formats. We do expect him to play.
Thursday, December 11, 2014, 6:32pm
Dolphins beat writer James Walker on the team's recent struggles against the run:
This has been one of the biggest mysteries of the season. Three weeks ago Miami had the No. 2 defense in the NFL and was No. 8 against the run. Then, out of nowhere, the Dolphins have allowed 661 rushing yards in the past three games. They are now No. 22 against the run. Players and coaches are at a loss. They say it is poor fundamentals, tackling and run fits.
This bodes well for LeGarrette Blount, who has dominated the carries in the last three weeks. He has toted the ball 42 times in that span; the next highest carry total is 12 by Shane Vereen. We're expecting Blount will carry the ball 15-plus times in a game that the Patriots should be able to control with their ground game.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014, 6:25pm
Friday, December 5, 2014, 6:38pm
Thursday, December 4, 2014, 5:59pm
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