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Patriots position-by-position breakdown: Running back

01.30.14 at 5:40 pm ET
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LeGarrette Blount had 772 rushing yards over the course of the 2013 regular season, second-best on the team. (AP)

LeGarrette Blount had 772 rushing yards over the course of the 2013 regular season, second-best on the team. (AP)

With the Patriots done for the year, we’€™ve got an end of the year position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. We started with special teams, wide receivers and tight ends. Now, it’€™s the running backs.

Depth chart: Stevan Ridley (178 carries, 773 rushing yards, 4.3 YPC, 7 TDs), LeGarrette Blount (153 carries, 772 rushing yards, 5 YPC, 7 TDs), Shane Vereen (44 carries, 208 rushing yards, 4.7 YPC, 1 rushing TD; 47 catches, 427 receiving yards, 3 TDs), Brandon Bolden (55 carries, 271 rushing yards, 4.9 YPC, 3 TDs; 21 catches, 152 receiving yards), fullback James Develin (4 carries, 10 rushing yards, 2.5 YPC, 1 TD).

Overview: This was a fascinating group to watch over the course of the year. The season started with Ridley as the lead back, but that didn’€™t last a full half before he was benched in the opener against Buffalo in favor of Vereen because of a fumble. Vereen then assumed the lead role — until it was revealed at the end of the Bills game that he suffered a wrist injury and would go on IR-DFR. The Patriots turned back to Ridley, who continued to have ball security issues over the course of the season, so much so that he was benched for a game against the Texans.

But as the season went on, Blount began to emerge as a powerful force, while Vereen and Ridley became complementary parts of the running game. While the running game stalled out in the AFC title contest, the stretch drive effort of Blount — 431 yards in a three-game stretch (two at the end of the regular season and one playoff game) — provided a tremendous lift for the New England offense at a time when it needed it most.

(While the three lead backs got most of the ink, it’€™s important to note that Bolden and Develin also provided a boost, Bolden with some much needed depth protection — particularly in spot duty when Vereen was on the shelf — while Develin and his neck roll were able to do a tremendous job clearing the way for the rest of the backs. Prior to the 2013 season, the Patriots hadn’€™t employed a full-time fullback since Heath Evans in 2008, but Develin’€™s work and dependability likely mean he’€™ll be back again in 2014.)

It remains to be seen what this group will look like in 2014. Can Vereen emerge as a healthy and consistent offensive threat? Can Ridley get over whatever ball security issues dogged him over the course of the 2013 campaign and return to full-time, lead-back status? And how deep will the Patriots reach into their own pockets to bring back Blount, who will hit the free agent market as one of the most intriguing prospects on the radar screen? Regardless, figure on the running back position to be one of the strengths of the offense heading into the 2014 season.

Best moment: We’€™ve got two: One was Blount’€™s epic back-to-back performances in the regular-season finale (24 carries, 189 yards, 2 TDs against the Bills) and the playoff opener (24 carries, 166 rushing yards, 4 TDs against the Colts), two of the best back-to-back individual rushing performances in recent franchise history. And two, Vereen’€™s outing in the season opener against the Bills, where he had 14 carries and seven catches, and averaged 7.57 yards every time he touched the ball. It was a glimpse into the multidimensional threat the Patriots believe he might be able to be if he can stay on the field consistently.

Worst moment: Two more: One, Ridley’€™s fumble in the regular-season opener set the tone for what was an uneven year for the LSU product, who couldn’€™t attain his preseason quest of becoming the first running back ever under Bill Belichick to go for 1,000 rushing yards in back-to-back seasons. And two, the work of the running game in the AFC title contest against the Broncos. It may not have been the fault of the backs in particular — blocking, playcalling and a stout Denver defensive front all played a part — but for the group to come up short in such a big game was disappointing.

By the numbers: 40-40. Vereen’€™s 44 carries and 47 catches put him in New England’€™s 40-catch/40-carry club — dating back 20 years, it’€™s a relatively exclusive group that includes Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Curtis Martin, Dave Meggett and Leroy Thompson. Vereen’€™s feat was made all the more impressive considering the fact that he played in only eight regular-season games over the course of the 2013 campaign.

Money quote: “That’€™s wonderful, man. To have a day like that, a game like that, and with him being on the same team with me again, living right next door to me, I can’€™t do nothing but smile, man. That’€™s my dog. … That’€™s probably the [best] friend I have in the NFL, right there.”€ — Aqib Talib, speaking with the media about Blount’€™s performance following the regular-season finale against the Bills.

Read More: Brandon Bolden, James Develin, LeGarrette Blount, position-by-position breakdown Print  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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