Shane Vereen was the Patriots' most productive back in the 2013 AFC Championship game. Credit: Getty Images
Fantasy football players should treat Patriots running backs like poison.
Real life fans of the Pats should not be as down on the group.
By most accounts, Bill Belichick will employ a “running back by committee” approach again this season, with some combination of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, James White, James Develin and Roy Finch receiving the carries.
Running backs are certainly susceptible to injury, so it’s no surprise that the Patriots often use a “next-man-up” approach at the position. The tone seems to be set early in the season, as on opening day of the 2013 regular season – a 23-21 Pats victory in Orchard Park, N.Y. over the Bills - three different New England backs touched the ball seven or more times. Vereen had 14 carries for 101 yards, Ridley had nine carries for 46 yards and LeGarrette Blount (now a member of the Steelers) had seven carries for 15 yards.
Ridley eventually emerged as something of a featured back midway through the 2013 season, the highlight day coming against the Steelers in early November as he touched the ball 26 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns. But it's important to remember that Vereen was out due to injury from Week 1 to Week 11 and Blount had not yet found his groove.
In the early part of this decade, the Patriots also used a multiple-back strategy, as on opening day of the 2011 season – a 38-24 Pats win in Miami – Danny Woodhead touched the ball 14 times for 69 yards and BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried the ball seven times for 34 yards and a touchdown. Even going back to the 2007 opener – a 38-14 win over the Jets in New Jersey – Laurence Maroney carried the ball 20 times for 72 yards and Sammy Morris received 11 carries for 54 yards.
What's for certain is that there is no Corey Dillon in Foxboro these days. On opening day of the 2004 season, Dillon was the only running back to carry the ball. Even when Blount had his monster playoff game against the Colts this past January (24 carries, 166 yards, four touchdowns), it’s important to note that Ridley still carried the ball 14 times and Vereen carried it five times.
It’s highly unlikely – particularly at the start of a season – that the Patriots will pick one back and ride with him.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor Matt Burke on Twitter:@BurkeMetroBOS