Trying to figure out what goes on in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's head is like trying to find your way out of a maze blindfolded. One of the biggest issues that have plagued fantasy owners is the team's backfield. It's funny that when you think about the Patriots, you automatically think Tom Brady, Wes Welker, etc, but many don't give the rushing game much thought. Last year, BenJarvus Green-Ellis finally broke out and racked up his first 1000-yard season, while also averaging a solid 4.4 yards a carry. Danny Woodhead, who played surprisingly well, showed his prowess in the rushing and receiving department after putting up 926 total yards from scrimmage and scoring six times.
Looking at these numbers, one would think that BGE will get most of the workload in 2011, with Woodhead coming in as the backup and third-down specialist. Not so fast because the Patriots threw a wrench in that thinking by drafting my next fantasy sleeper in the second round of the 2011 draft.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you rookie RB Shane Vereen.
Vareen wasn't the best running back to come out this year. But like other players, he landed in a good situation. Vereen spent his first two active seasons at California serving as backup to, now, Lions RB Jahvid Best. But once he was given the opportunity to start in 2010, he made the most of it. Vareen rushed for 1167 yards, thirteen touchdowns and averaged 97.2 yards a game.
Because he is solid in rushing, receiving and was regarded as one of the best pass-blocking running backs in the draft, Vereen figures to get work right away. ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss says he thinks Vereen is the only "all-around back" in the team's backfield and he's right. BGE is a bruiser and Woodhead is better off in a part-time role and as the team's primary pass-catching running back. If Vereen can progress quickly and learn the system, he should progressively get more touches as the season goes on.
Vereen wasn't the only running back the Patriots drafted, however, as they ended up using a third rounder on LSU RB Stevan Ridley. But because Ridley is more of a bruiser, like BGE, he figures to have more of a "clock-killing" role and he could also see goal-line carries.
If you can't tell by now, I'm not as high on Vereen as I am on other running back sleepers I have listed in the past few weeks like Roy Helu and Daniel Thomas. I can't say I would draft Vereen simply because there are too many guys to give the ball to right now. I love his dynasty value. But in redraft leagues, I would pass on him and keep a watchful eye on his progress and how he is used early on in the season. He is definitely a sleeper, but more of a waiver-wire player for the time being if you can't afford the roster space.