With the big acquisitions on defense this off-season and the burning desire to make the passing game better many New England Patriot fans have overlooked one of the least stable positions on the field, running back. Most would assume that Stevan Ridley in a contract year and being the back with the most touches over the past few seasons will be carrying the load, however this leaves the more interesting question of if Stevan Ridley goes down with injury or catches the fumble again who will be the feature running back for the Patriots in his absence?
Shane Vereen was more of a dynamic option than ground and pound man last season (Barry Chin/Boston Globe)
The second option at running back for the Patriots would likely be last seasons breakout back Shane Vereen but could he handle the majority of the carries despite being more of a scat back? Weighing in at a light 205lbs Vereen is hardly a power back and at 15 pounds lighter than the prior mentioned Steven Ridely it hardly looks like Vereen could hold up for an entire NFL season as the main back. Throw in that last season Vereen only played in 8 games and had more receptions (47) than carries(44) he cannot be relied on as a feature back.
With Shane Vereen forced to stay as a receiving back we move down the depth chart to the next possible option in the backfield Brandon Bolden. The undrafted free agent running back out of Ole Miss has been am admirable running back for the Patriots since his arrival in 2011. As solid as Bolden has been his consistency has been as a reliable back up option not a starting role and at times it can be seen clearly why Bolden was undrafted in the first place. Bolden simply does not have the top end speed or agility to break runs to the outside while he also does not have the power that a Steven Ridley or Legarrette Blount have running between the tackles. That being said Bolden should remain a backup for New England unless the injury bug hits the roster.
With Bolden's lack of explosion the next man down on the depth chart at running back for the Patriots is 22 year old rookie James White. White out of Wisconsin was dynamic in high school rushing for well over 1000 yards, but listed at only 204 lbs White closely resembles the Shane Vereen and has practiced the scat back role often in the preseason. Presumable at 204lbs and with no prior NFL experience White will not be asked to run at 300lb lineman often and will instead be used as a reserve option behind Shane Vereen.
The Last player that could possibly as a feature running back for the Patriots ( assuming the 5'6'' 170lb Roy Finch isn't a legitimate option) is Stephen Houston, the undrafted free agent addition out of Indiana. Unlike the previous three running backs listed Houston appears to have the size at 5'11'' 230lbs to run between the tackles and hit holes with authority. A solid one cut option out of the backfield Houston actually reminds me of Ridley with his ceiling as an NFL back but it is still yet to be seen if Houston can consistently tap into the explosiveness he possesses.
So the best answer for who will be the featured running back for the Patriots if Steven Ridley goes down? No one! The Patriots have not built their roster with a viable option behind Ridley unless the slim Vereen/White have been hitting the gym constantly or Stephen Houston emerges as a tremendous value as an undrafted free agent. Regardless of Ridley's health/ fumble issues Bill Belichick and the Patriots are lacking depth and experience at the running back position an will be putting great faith once again in undrafted free agents and Tom Brady's arm.