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Fantasy Football: Making a Case for Shane Vereen in 2013

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fantasy football

Jan 13, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen (34) reacts against the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Texans 41-28. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

It’s highly likely that you wouldn’t consider a team led by Tom Brady, with pass catchers like Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker, as a haven for fantasy gold in the ground game. But that’s exactly what the New England Patriots stable of runners were in 2012, a dominant fantasy stable of running backs.

Led by the breakout season of Stevan Ridley, the quartet of Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden combined for 2,746 yards from scrimmage and 25 total touchdowns, while producing two top 24 fantasy backs (Ridley and Woodhead) in both standard and PPR scoring.

For the upcoming 2013 campaign, Woodhead has moved on to play with the San Diego Chargers, signing a two-year $3.5 million dollar contract during free agency. His departure leaves room for one of my favorite breakout candidates for next season in the versatile Vereen.

Ridley is still the favorite to receive the bulk of the rushing attempts; his 290 carries a season ago were the most by a Bill Belichick back since Corey Dillon’s 345 back in 2004, but he doesn’t come without blemishes. He had the fourth highest TD dependency rate (36.1 percent) out of the top 24 standard scoring backs, seven games with fewer than 10 total points, and only in five games did he rush for more yards per carry in a game than the defense he was facing normally allowed.

It’s also worth noting that only three years ago, the Patriots hierarchy perceived Vereen as a superior player, as evidenced by selecting him 17 picks ahead of Ridley in the 2010 draft. That’s right: Vereen was drafted before Ridley.

In Woodhead’s absence, perception seems to be that Vereen will only have value in leagues that reward pass catching running backs. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as he likely inherits a large chunk of Woodhead’s prior workload, Vereen brings much more balance to that role than Woodhead ever did.

NEW ENGLAND RB USAGE –   INCLUDING POSTSEASON

TOTAL PLAYS

% SNAPS

RUN %

PASS %

YDS/SCRIM.

YDS/PLAY

RIDLEY

623

44.3

57.9

42.1

1479

2.37

WOODHEAD

456

32.5

19.5

81.5

770

1.69

VEREEN

217

18.5

36.4

63.6

562

2.59

BOLDEN

99

15.5

64.6

35.4

285

2.88

*Snap % per ProFootballFocus.com

The reason postseason usage is added is because of the Divisional Playoff Round playoff game versus Houston. That game was the first time in Vereen’s career that a huge part of the game plan was catered to his abilities, in a must-win game nonetheless. So trust is there.

Vereen played 57 percent of the offensive snaps against Houston (31 percent was his prior season high, week 11 vs IND), rushed eight times for 40 yards and showed his versatility in the passing game, catching 5 balls for 83 yards and two scores, including a 33 yard go route while lining up split out as a wide receiver.

In less than half as many offensive plays last year, Vereen nearly gained 75 percent of  Woodheads total yardage. If his snap count comes close to what Woodhead received in 2012, you’re looking at a 900-1,100 yard combo back who scored a touchdown once every 12.6 touches last season.

Check out the plethora of ways that Vereen was used last season by the New England coaching staff:

As you can see he was used in the power and speed running game, in the slot, split out wide and even in short yardage situations.

On top of that, he’s linked to a dynamic offense that runs the ball, a lot. Although New England only ran the ball 42.9 percent of the time (14th in the NFL), they more than compensated for the sheer volume of plays that they were able to run each game.

Coming into this season, many are excited about the type of offense Chip Kelly is bringing into the league with the Philadelphia Eagles, but Belichick and the Patriots have already adopted the up-tempo philosophy that Kelly preaches.

Last season the Patriots ran 1,191 plays on offense (77.4 plays per game). That number was tops in the league, and although they threw the ball nearly 60 percent of the time, they finished 2nd in the NFL in rush attempts at 523 behind only the Seattle Seahawks.

They ran 234 more plays than the last place team, the Tennessee Titans, over the course of the season. Just two years ago, they finished 2nd in the league at 67.4 plays per game, only trailing the Saints.

The risk in Vereen has always been health. He’s missed 14 games over his first two seasons with multiple injuries. He’s already preparing himself for the workload increase, telling ESPN:

“There’s a little more focus on my part. There has to be. [I need to] just be more consistent, more reliable. That comes with practice and that comes with time, so hopefully we’ll get there. … I’m a dual threat; it means I have to know multiple positions. I have to know everything, really. Here, it wasn’t always easy coming in. You’ve got to learn how to learn the system, make sense of it to yourself. I’m more of a visual learner, so I learn a lot by seeing it on the field. [But] I’ve been to plenty of practices; seen and taken a lot of mental reps as well as physical reps. I don’t think it’s much of an issue any more.”

In fantasy, quantity can overcome quality in a hurry. And if the quantity can be matched with a quality player, then the there’s an opportunity to create something of value for fantasy owners. Per FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Vereen is currently being drafted as the 36th running back off the board, 89th overall, behind Daryl Richardson, Eddie Lacy, Green Ellis, Bernard, and gasp … Mark Ingram.

Just like everyone else, I will be drafting running backs early and often when the summer comes. One guy I definitely don’t want to miss out on is Vereen, who I think will prove to be a top-24 running back this year.

Stats for the article provided by NFL.com, ProFootballFocus.com and pro-football-reference.com

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