- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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In a recent piece on NFL.com, "Around The League" writer Brian McIntyre pegs running back Stevan Ridley as a candidate to have a breakout season for the Patriots in 2012.
With BenJarvus Green-Ellis now a Bengal, Ridley looks primed to assume a larger role, and could become the Patriots’ featured running back. He flashed promise in 2011, but struggled with fumbles down the stretch. An ability to hold onto the football could translate into a productive sophomore campaign for the former LSU Tiger.
It’s hard to argue with Ridley as a candidate to breakout next season, and here’s a look at three other players who might do the same.
RB SHANE VEREEN
Ridley may end up tag-teaming with Vereen – himself a 2011 draft choice of the Patriots – to tote the heavy load from the Patriots backfield in 2012. Vereen had a quiet rookie season, which was due in part to injuries. Now healthy, Vereen looks ready to integrate himself into Josh McDaniels’ offense, and could do a little bit of everything. He was a productive receiver in college, and could be used as a multi-dimensional backfield threat. With a crowded crop of running backs on the roster, the Patriots look poised to employ a number of runners in their offensive game plan each week, and Vereen may have the opportunity to make noise in year two of his career.
DL KYLE LOVE
While some would say that Love had his breakout year in 2011, it seems as though there is even more room for the 25-year old to grow entering 2012. Although the league-wide emphasis on the passing game may prove to limit the need for multiple run-stuffing tackles on the field throughout the course of a game, Love still offers enough ability to impact the defense that he likely will continue to play an important role next season. He was impressive as a partner to Vince Wilfork in 2011, and could again build on his success in his third season.
TE AARON HERNANDEZ
It’s hard to imagine a guy who caught 79 passes a season ago could qualify as a candidate to break out, but perhaps the best is still yet to come from Hernandez. We saw the Patriots use him from the backfield to end the 2011 season, which could be taken as a sign that the team will continue to work creatively to move him all over the offense. He was targeted eight more times than any other Patriot receiver in the 2011 playoffs, and with so much talent around him, it will be difficult for teams to dedicate significant attention to any receiver on the Patriots offense in 2012.