Continuing our positional reviews from 2012, focusing on the running backs:
Key Statistics: Ridley: 290 carries, 1,263 yards, 12 TDs (44.8 percent of snaps); Woodhead: 106 combined carries/receptions for 747 yards, 7 TDs (34.1 percent of snaps); Vereen: 62 carries, 251 yards, 3 TDs (3 TDs in divisional round win over Houston).
Overview: The Patriots had arguably their most productive and diverse running-back group since the days of Corey Dillon, as Ridley established himself as a workhorse. He finished seventh in the NFL in rushing yards, sparked by a terrific first half of the season. He showed himself to be a runner with very good contact strength, burst, good speed, elusiveness and a willingness to break tackles. Woodhead once again was the change-of-pace back, and the Patriots' most well-rounded backfield player. He found a role in the Patriots’ up-tempo, spread attack and was the same reliable player he’s become known as. Vereen has similar skills to Woodhead, but was not able to consistently get on the field for the Patriots. He flashed dynamic athleticism, speed and pass-catching ability in playing just less than 13 percent of the snaps this season. With Woodhead set to become a free agent, Vereen could be in line for a larger role next season.
2013 Personnel Preview: Ridley, Vereen and Bolden are under contract for next season, as are fullback James Develin and running back/returner Jeff Demps, the former Olympian who spent last season on injured reserve. Woodhead would seem to be on the team’s radar for a return, but could be lured elsewhere in free agency. Demps’ unique speed could be the answer for the Patriots’ recently pedestrian kickoff return game.