Dear Fantasy Love Doctor,
There’s this guy. His name’s Stevan Ridley. Let’s just call him a friend for now. We’ve kind of been hanging out for the past year or so on a constant basis; almost kind of like we’re going steady. But we just haven’t really felt like labeling it as anything that would force us to call it exclusive. There are still other people, mainly this one guy, Shane Vereen, that I also have eyes for. And to tell you the truth, I liked Shane before I met Stevan, but things got complicated. Stevan and I were put together under special circumstances while Shane had to go work on his issues, and Stevan and I just jived from that point on. Sure, we’ve had our ups and downs like any other normal couple does, but up until now it’s been pretty good. But that guy I mentioned earlier, Shane, well, he just won’t go away and he’s been trying to woo me away from Stevan. I’m just not sure what to do! Do I stay with Stevan, who I sometimes can’t depend on, and give Shane a shot to see if I’m better off with him? Or do I just ride it out with Stevan hoping it doesn’t end in flames?
Brainy and Busted
Thanks for your question. It’s always tempting to see how greener the grass is on the other side of the fence when you already know what you got going on in your backyard. We live in a culture where newer is better, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. With that in mind, last season Ridley was given a chance to show why he should be the guy you stick with.
After winning the starting running back gig in New England, Ridley proved rather quickly why that was a good move by the Patriots, as he gashed the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 of 2012 to the tune of 125 yards rushing and a score. His six rushing yards per carry (YPC) average looked pretty good to most fantasy observers after Week 1, and those who decided to draft Ridley on a ‘what-the-heck’ hunch late in fantasy drafts were rewarded. Ridley kept it up all year long, rushing for a total of 1,263 yards and scoring 12 rushing touchdowns.
The biggest concern with Ridley going into his 2012 campaign was his fumbling issues. Much was made about it on Twitter all season long, and if you were a Ridley owner, you felt like you were one Ridley fumble away from a game going down the tubes. In the end, Ridley fumbled the ball a total of four times as a ball carrier and only lost two of them. He did lose some playing time as a result of them, but last season in games following a lost fumble, Ridley carried the ball 16 and 18 times, respectively. If a running back were to get benched because of fumbles he wouldn’t receive such a high workload.
If you kept riding the Ridley rollercoaster last year and didn’t put too much stock into the reports of his ultimate demise as a starting fantasy football back, The Riddler rewarded you with a top ten fantasy football running back season in standard scoring leagues, as he finished 10th overall with 199.40 fantasy points. And in full-point PPR leagues Ridley finished 15th overall with 205.40. Yes, he only had six catches last year and that was a concern for fantasy owners. But, whichever way you look at it, Ridley ended the season as an RB1 in standard scoring leagues even though he was drafted as more of an RB2 or flex option.
However, there was a reason why Ridley, the talented 2011 3rd round draft pick, had a lower ADP last season. And that was because nobody was quite sure whether or not Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick had enough trust and faith in Ridley to carry the rushing load for the team all year long. The Patriots had some solid depth at the running back position last season, as Danny Woodhead, Brandon Bolden, and Shane Vereen all contributed in a big way at some point during the season. Woodhead actually wound up as the 24th highest scoring running back in standard scoring leagues last season, and was the 23rd best in full-point PPR leagues! Danny Woodhead! An RB2!
So why Shane Vereen, BB? In a Pro Football Focus article by Mike Clay where he looked at running back carries based on the defensive personnel faced, Ridley had the highest amount of carries versus nickel defenses. Out of his 323 carries (regular season and playoffs) last season, 205 of them occurred when there were five defensive backs on the field. That number’s understandable for third down running backs who come in for passing plays, but Ridley was far from a third down and pass catching back last season.
The Patriots were mainly viewed as a pass first offense last year, which gave Ridley more to work with as defenders focused on stopping Brady. Clay pointed out in his article that the more defensive backs that are on the field, the higher the YPC average. It stands to reason that Ridley’s production had something to do with the personnel he faced, but Clay did Tweet out that Ridley had a 4.3 YPC average against a base defense (4 DBs on the field), which was higher, barely, than the 4.2 league average. I can see defenses, however, paying more attention to Ridley next season and playing less in the nickel when he’s on the field.
Then there’s the real threat to Ridley’s 2013 production, Vereen himself. Including the playoffs last season, Vereen, the 2011 second round draft pick, scored seven touchdowns and averaged 6.4 yards per touch. Ridley’s average per touch including the playoffs last season was 4.5, though Vereen’s total touches last season was 88 compared to Ridley’s 330. The good thing about both those numbers is that neither player was overused; couple that with their youth and they should both still have fresh legs for next season.
Even though Vereen had a lowly 88 touches last season, he did produce with the opportunities he got. His 124 total yards and three total touchdown performance against the Texans in the playoffs last season gives us a glimpse into the fantasy football community’s mindset as to why they, and myself, believe Vereen will have a chance to have a break-out 2013. Just take a look at his highlights from that Texans game to see for yourself.
Back to your original conundrum now, BB, of having to choose between Ridley and Vereen…
I think the question you should really be asking yourself is not whom do you choose between the two, but rather, can you make a fantasy football love triangle work with Ridley and Vereen working in tandem for you? Last season Ridley (290), Woodhead (76), Vereen (62), and Bolden (56) accounted for 484 regular season carries. Woodhead tacked on 40 receptions to go with those carries for a total of 116 touches. Vereen’s likely to take over Woodhead’s role for now, unless he leaps over Ridley on the depth chart.
Early projections for Vereen by PFF and Mike Clay have him carrying the ball 110 times for 461 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns, and they also have him catching the ball 48 times for 376 yards and 2 touchdowns. In a non-PPR league that projects to 124 points, and in a full-point PPR league his projected points total would be 172. That would have been good enough to rank just as Danny Woodhead did last season, or a low-end RB2 on your team. Vereen also had higher fantasy points scored per snap and fantasy points scored per opportunity than Ridley in both standard and PPR leagues last year, but again, the caveat is that Vereen had less than 30% of the touches Ridley did.
With the way things are going right now in fantasy football mock drafts, the ADP of both Ridley and Vereen could lead to an interesting scenario where you can draft both of them. MyFantasyLeague.com has Ridley’s ADP at 31.79 (RB17) and Vereen’s ADP at 113.76 (RB38). With that ADP, you’d be looking to draft Ridley in the middle of the 3rd round and Vereen in the middle of the 10th round in 12-team leagues.
Having Ridley and Vereen both on your team would then leave you with the option to start them both on a weekly basis, with Ridley as your RB1 and Vereen as your RB2 or Flex. You’ll also be covered in case Ridley falters and loses playing time and touches to Vereen by already having Vereen on your bench, and that’s a big plus since you also won’t have to worry about trying to decipher what Belichick will do with the running back position on a game-to-game basis.
Of course, BB, you can’t forget about Bolden, who showed glimpses of his potential last season; particularly his Week 4 outing against the Bills where he totaled 148 yards on 17 touches and scored one touchdown. If Bolden were to become the number one running back in New England, then forget all about my advice and spread your fantasy football love elsewhere.
The Fantasy Love Doctor