- James Walker, ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter
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Sleeper player: RB Shane Vereen
Why we like him: Injuries and a crowded backfield kept Vereen mostly sidelined during his rookie year. But physically Vereen has a lot of potential. We liked Vereen coming out of the draft last year. He’s probably one New England’s fastest running backs and probably one of the quickest players on the team. With New England’s wide open passing, Vereen has a chance to slice through a lot of creases in the defense. He is competing with Stevan Ridley, Joseph Addai and Danny Woodhead for the starting job.
Reasons for concern: Vereen is the least proven running back on the roster. Addai is a veteran who had some success with the Indianapolis Colts. Ridley flashed last year as a rookie, and Woodhead has put together some nice performances as a backup and third-down specialist. Vereen has just 15 career carries from his rookie year. The Patriots’ offense is build on trust and accountability, and Vereen will have to earn it in training camp before he sees the field in the regular season.
Outlook: Vereen is a wild card. There's no other way to put it. He has the potential to be the home-run hitting running back the Patriots haven't had in a while. Or he could be just another second-round pick in New England that didn't pan out. But the Patriots will give Vereen every chance to prove himself this year. So we will know a lot more about the young tailback by the end of 2012.
The AFC East blog concludes its series this week on sleeper players who could make an impact in the division. Finally, we have a running back for the New England Patriots.