Patriots’ State of the Backfield: 2014 and Beyond

Shane Vereen

Is this Shane Vereen’s last year in New England? (USA Today Sports)

NEPD Staff Writer: CJ Sousa

What qualities do the Patriots care about most in a running back?  

Is it the ability to pick up a blitz? Or what about the obvious speed, vision, power, and ball security?  All of those may be in play, but if you look at it from a front office standpoint it seems to be all about the almighty dollar.  

The Patriots aren’t afraid to spend money when they feel it’s necessary.  This off-season alone, the team paid the price to ink stud cornerbacks Darrelle Revis (1 year, $12M) and Brandon Browner ( 3 years, $17M) to bolster their secondary.  Clearly, the Patriots who may be known as “cheap” around the league aren’t afraid to spend money when the right opportunity presents itself.

Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are both 25 year old backs who have showed at times great promise in this league.  Particularly Ridley, who has tallied 2,477 yards and  20 touchdowns in four NFL seasons.  He also has quite an impressive 4.5 yards per carry.  One would assume a player who has produced this much will remain in the organization for a long time.  An in fact, that could not be farther from the truth with New England.

Look no farther then last offseason.  The Patriots watched Legarrette Blount, arguably their offensive MVP last season sign a measly 2 year $3.85M deal with AFC rival Pittsburgh.  A season before the Patriots let Danny Woodhead, a critical part of the Patriots offense especially receiving out of the backfield, take the high road out of town for a 2 year $3.75M with the Chargers.  In 2011, the Patriots let the lawfirm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis walk for a decent contract to Cincinnati, 3 years worth $9M.  Green-Ellis had been a very productive player, rushing for over 1,600 yards and 24 touchdowns in his final two seasons.  I could go on, but you all get the point.  The Patriots have little interest in paying running backs.

Currently, the Patriots have three running backs approaching contract years in their rookie deals with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden.  A good bet is that maybe one of these guys will be in Foxborough next season.  The team drafted James White in 2014, who has generated plenty of buzz during camp.  The remaining backs on the roster next year could consist of Tyler Gaffney, 6th round pick of Carolina in 2014, Roy Finch, and yeah, you see the problem.

There is a good bet the Patriots will be taking a running back in the 2015 draft, maybe even two as they did with Ridley and Vereen in 2011.  Here are some guys to watch in the upcoming college football season.

Todd Gurley – Georgia: In my opinion, Gurley is far and away best running back prospect in college football.  Think of Marshawn Lynch, but faster, then maybe you have a good picture of Gurley.  The 6’1, 231 lbs back from Georgia has rushed for 2,374 yards and 27 touchdowns in the most difficult conference in college football.  His power, vision and speed from a back of his size is terrifying in the open field.  The only thing to slow Gurley so far has been some slight injuries, but if he can stay healthy he should contend for the Heisman and be a first round pick.

Mike Davis – South Carolina: Gurley gets all of the talk and hype in the SEC, as he should, but I believe Davis can be the number two running back prospect in the spring.  Davis wastes little motion, hits the hole hard, and has deceptive speed.  Davis is a bowling ball type of runner, standing at 5’9 and 223 lbs.  Davis has rushed for 1,458 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons.

Melvin Gordon – Wisconsin: Point blank, Gordon is one of the most explosive players in college football.  He is shifty in the hole, and tends to get the most out of his runs.  Gordon exploaded onto the scene last year rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Whats even more impressive about that, James White, fourth round pick of the Patriots, ran the ball 221 times for the Badgers.  Gordon can shine even in a crowded back field, and is expected to contend for the Heisman this season.

TJ Yeldon – Alabama: The 6’2 221 lbs Alabama back is the latest Tide ball carrier to gain national interest.  Yeldon has ran for 2,343 yards and 26 touchdowns, nearly identical stats to his SEC counterpart Todd Gurley.  Yeldon is shifty with good size, speed and vision. Unfortunately for Yeldon, he may not be the best running back on his own team.  Electric sophomore Derrick Henry is expected to at worst split carriers with Yeldon this season.  Henry has phenomenal size and speed, and may take the Heisman home this year if all goes to plan.  He is the better pro prospect in my opinion, but he is not draft eligible this year, so we wont worry about him just yet.  Is Yeldon truely great? Or is he the product of a great offensive line combined with stellar QB play.  We may not find out until Yeldon is a rookie.

Duke Johnson – Miami (FL): Duke Johnson is quite the special talent. The 5’9 206lbs back had a great season last year.  Johnson had 920 yards and 6 touchdowns when his season was cut short after eight games.  Johnson put on 20 lbs this offseason to become more durable for the Canes.  Even more impressive, Coach Al Golden has said Johnson actually got faster too.  Look for Johnson to emerge as a top prospect for next years draft.

Other running backs to keep an eye on are Karlos Williams (Florida State),  Malcolm Brown (Texas), Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska), Marlin Lane (Tennessee) and two small school guys I like a lot, Rob Holloman (Central Connecticut State) and Malcolm Agnew (S. Illinois).

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6 Responses to “Patriots’ State of the Backfield: 2014 and Beyond”

  1. Victor Kiams ghost says:

    I don’t think Ridley will be here next year for two reasons; money and ball security. Bill has always talked about value, versatility, and ball security. So another draft pick will be used on a Ridley type back. For this year I think we’ll see a backfield of Ridley, Vereen, Bolden, and White. I also think Develin will make the roster as a FB/TE seems to me this kid just makes plays and has the right football mentality. Finch may end up on the practice squad.

    • steve earle says:

      Your assessment sounds solid to me. The cut down this year will be painful though I still think a couple DB’s, Wilson and Ebner, would not be a great losses, Chung could fill their ST functions or maybe even Thomas. Finch is showing well and I’d like to hold out hope he continues to and could make it onto the 53 as a 5th RB. Was originally worried about his size but he seems to avoid taking high impact hits.

    • MaineMan says:

      I’m thinking that Finch – who has great return talent, can catch pretty well and also runs better than expected, AND who busts his butt all the time – could make the 53 over Boyce, who seems consistently lazy about everything. At least while Tyms in on suspension.

      I was on the completely opposite side of this immediately after the game against the Skins, but I saw Finch live in practice last Tuesday at Gillette and he was consistently carrying the ball securely and not playing nearly as recklessly – without either of those things diminishing his effectiveness. That carried over into the game against Philly and I’d say NOW that he has a great chance to make the roster if he maintains his current level of self-discipline.

  2. steve earle says:

    Watching tonight’s game it’s clear that some very decent RB’s have arrived in Foxborough via free agency and mid to low rd. picks. I see no reason BB will change that in the next draft. And speaking of, Bolden had some nice production against the Eagles tonight. One defender is still on the field looking for his jock strap tonight. White had a quiet first half with the starters while Gray tore up the second half against lesser defenders but still was impressive to see. Other good viewing was Garoppolo taking up where he left off last week only with the srarters and reservers filling in. Another step forward. Even Mallett had a good outing in the second half. May have redeemed some lost credability.

  3. MaineMan says:

    While it’s nice to review these top RBs and fantasize about the Pats drafting one (or two!) with a relatively high pick in 2015, it’s probably worth remembering that Blount, Woodhead and BGE were all UDFA.

    Khiry Robinson was a UDFA. Andre Ellington was a 6th-rounder. Alfred Morris was a 6th-rounder. Arian Foster ….

    My point being that the Pats have been getting pretty decent production out of “lesser” RBs in their RBBC – perhaps a testament to the run-blocking of the OL and TEs.

    Sure, the Pats spent a 2nd on Vereen and a 3rd on Ridley (after he’d had only ONE significantly productive season at LSU), but both have had their “issues”. Meanwhile, Bolden (yet another UDFA) has produced more rushing yards in two seasons than Vereen has in three, and his 2013 receiving alone was more than Ridley has caught for in three seasons.

    While it does seem likely to me that the Pats will spend “a” draft pick on an RB, it also seems likely to me that it would be in the 4th (like White) or later – on an RB who’s NOT among the top prospects, but rather a guy who can run – and catch – who might be overlooked by most teams. That’s a list I’d like to see.

  4. Jack T says:

    Great article, CJ. These are the backs we can look forward to going to other teams. Thanks for the warning. I’m laughing so hard I’m crying… or is it the other way around?

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