Patriots Running Backs By The Numbers: Replacing BenJarvis Green-Ellis

Can Ridley help replace the half of the carries lost when Green-Ellis left in free agency?

The Patriots let running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis walk in free agency this past off-season without a real conscious effort to retain him. Green-Ellis, who had 24 touchdowns over the past two seasons, was an underrated piece in the powerful Patriots offense.

Veteran Joseph Addai was brought in this off-season to enter the mix for carries, but he was cut the first day of camp. That leaves the Patriots with a defacto veteran third down specialist Danny Woodhead, second year players Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and undrafted free agent Brandon Bolden.

Let’s take a look at the number of rushes the team had the past two years, as well as the outgoing Green-Ellis, the remaining four backs, and quarterback Tom Brady.

New England Patriots

2010: 454
2011: 438

BenJarvis Green-Ellis

2010: 229
2011: 181

Danny Woodhead

2010: 97
2011: 77

Stevan Ridley

2010 (college): 249
2011: 87

Shane Vereen

2010 (college): 231
2011: 15

Brandon Bolden

2010 (college): 163
2011 (college):  96

Tom Brady

2010: 31
2011: 46

In Green-Ellis, the Patriots lost 46% of their carries from the past two season. The team will return Danny Woodhead (19.5%) and Tom Brady (17%) which accounts for just over a third of the team’s rushes.

How will the Patriots divvy up the remaining two thirds of carries?

Stevan Ridley has been the talk of the running back group throughout the offseason and into training camp. The impressive third round pick out of LSU averaged an ultra-impressive 5.1 yards per scamper in 2011, but a fumble in the end of the season and another in the playoffs put Ridley in the doghouse to finish the team’s run. He has rebounded by all accounts though and has been seeing the majority of first team repetitions in training camp.

There aren’t too many miles on 5’11” 220 pound back, as his 249 carries in 2010 and 87 last season were both college/professional highs. If he doesn’t cough up the football, there is a good chance Ridley could approach the 200 carry mark.

With Danny Woodhead locked into a third-down/situational role, one would think 2011 second round pick Shane Vereen may be in store for a heavier workload. Vereen, who was sidelined by a hamstring injury most of his rookie season, had an impressive showing in the second half of last Thursday’s preseason opener.

Vereen had a much heavier college running load than Ridley. A three year starter, Shane averaged 185 carries a year for over five yards per carry. He is smaller (5’9″ 205 pounds) and is a shiftier back, but outside of last year he has a durable track record.

The team thought highly of Vereen, enough so to draft him ahead of Ridley, so if he continues to impress/improve during camp he could be in line for more carries than we think. Best case is he and Ridley create a two-headed monster to pair with Woodhead.

Undrafted rookie free agent Brandon Bolden could be in line for carries as well. The Ole Miss alumni had his best year two seasons ago during his junior campaign when he rushed for 14 touchdowns and 976 yards while averaging 6.0 yards per carry in the SEC. That particular season, he had 186 carries which was his four year college high, but the 5’11” 220 pound back has the body of a workhorse.

It is perhaps a bit concerning that the majority of the team’s carries will come from three young backs, but the organization is set to move forward with this group. This group will have an opportunity to be inserted into an elite offense with star veterans all around them.

It is Ridley, Vereen, and Bolden’s time to answer the call.

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