The Case for Shane Vereen
The recent events in New England involving a certain tight end (who shall remain nameless at the direction of Executive Editor Josh Moore) has the fantasy community in a tizzy trying to predict who will benefit and who will be hurt by the loss of one of the team's most potent weapons.
The receiving game is important, but I'd like to discuss the state of the Patriots' running game, specifically Shane Vereen. Here's what we know about the third-year RB:
- Including the postseason, he averaged 16.9 yards on 15 receptions, which is a small (yet encouraging) sample.
- He gained at least 38 total yards in six of his last nine games and scored five TDs in that span, splitting backup touches with Woodhead in that span.
- Woodhead (116 touches, 747 yards, 7 TDs) is now a member of the San Diego Chargers. (He's also a sleeper, by the way.) Woody was quietly fantasy football's #24 RB in standard formats in 2012.
- Vereen is only 24 years old and should continue to improve.
- He has been going in the early 8th round, but recently his ADP has risen into the middle of the 7th round.
Take a look at this table, which shows the total fantasy points generated by all running backs on every team in the league. Note that the Patriots are 1st in the league in this category. If you think of fantasy football as slicing up a pie of fantasy points, the Pats are working with the biggest pie. As they proved last season -- with Ridley at #10 and Woodhead at #24 -- there is room for two quality fantasy RBs in this offense.
Ridley carried the ball 290 times in 2012, which was the most carries by a New England RB since Corey Dillon's 345 totes back in 2004. It's safe to say that the soon-to-be 24-year-old is the clear RB1 in a high-octane offense, and he should be valued as such. Sure, he might get benched for a half if he loses a fumble, but he received 16 and 18 carries in two games following lost fumbles last season, so it appears that he has (mostly) earned Bill Belichick's trust.
So Ridley proved to be a capable workhorse back and should get his carries. He's barely involved in the passing game, so if Vereen gets most of that work, he could/should have at least a Woodhead-type season.
The Departure of Danny Woodhead
The following table shows the combined game log for Woodhead and Vereen for all 18 of the team's games in 2012.
|G#||Opp||Att||Yds||TD||Rec||Tgt||Yds||TD||FP (std)||FP (PPR)|
The last two rows show the 18-game average along with a prorated 16-game total. If Vereen keeps his 2012 workload and gets all of Woodhead's touches, he's projected to score 193 FP in standard formats and 243 FP in PPR. Those are #14 RB and #12 RB numbers, respectively. And that includes a couple of very quiet weeks for the duo at the start of the season.
This is Vereen's ceiling if he gets all of Woody's work even if Ridley remains healthy. Pretty impressive, right? I don't think he'll get there due to the TD projection -- it's going to be tough for Vereen to score 12+ TDs given the other losses the Patriots have suffered on offense (i.e. they may not make as many trips to the red zone in 2013).
There is the matter of the other RBs in New England. The team did use Brandon Bolden at certain points last year -- he carried the ball 30 times total in Week 4 and Week 5 against the Bills and Broncos, but was limited to 26 carries in his other six games. He missed a good chunk of time with a knee injury and a four-game suspension for PED use. More recently, he was nursing a foot injury in OTAs.
LeGarrette Blount is another pounder who had a pretty nice season with the Buccaneers two seasons ago, but fell out of favor and was made expendable by the arrival of Doug Martin and his own ineptitude in the passing game.
Bolden and Blount are both more likely to threaten Ridley's touches than Vereen's, though we are expecting Vereen to carry the ball 8-9 times, so that could end up being 4-5 attempts if the team wants to get Bolden and Blount more involved.
As for Leon Washington, he's a fine return man, but he has just 14 catches in the last two seasons and will probably serve as insurance in case Vereen goes down. The Patriots have been able to breathe life into players' careers before so it's possible we'll see Washington in a more substantial role if the team wants to utilize his skill set.
Drafting Both Ridley & Vereen
I think it's a smart strategy to draft both Ridley (in the 2nd or 3rd of 12-team drafts) and Vereen (in the 6th-8th). Vereen is the best kind of handcuff in that he does provide the necessary insurance, but he can also start most weeks as a fringe RB2 or a good flex. Here's a look at the weekly output for Ridley and the Woodhead/Vereen combination in 2012:
The combined total averages 24.6 PPG, which equates to having two #12 RBs, assuming Vereen gets all of Woodhead's production. Again, this is probably a best-case scenario of Vereen's workload/scoring, but you can see how the duo outscored Ridley in nine of the team's 18 games in 2012. Combined, the three players produced at least 15 fantasy points in 14 of 18 games. Three of those games were against Baltimore (twice) and Seattle (once), bad matchups that fantasy owners could probably see coming.
The Bottom Line
We currently have Vereen as our #29 RB in standard formats and #26 in PPR. Danny Woodhead's 2012 season is a good benchmark for Vereen in 2013, though the entire offense may take a step back given all of their losses in the passing game. The good news is that the franchise has plenty of time to prepare for a life without those weapons, and in Tom Brady, they have one of the best QBs in the league to lead the way. We're expecting the team to run a bit more to compensate, and that should only make it easier for Vereen to get the touches necessary to be a fantasy RB2.