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Player Spotlight: Stevan Ridley

A detailed look at Stevan Ridley's fantasy prospects for 2013.

In 2012 Stevan Ridley did what very few players of his age and experience have ever done. Ridley's 1263 rushing yards were the 5th most since 1960 for a 23 year-old second-year back, and his 12 touchdowns rank seventh in that same group. When you combine both feats the company becomes even rarer, with Ladainian Tomlinson being the only other back to have accomplished it. Considering that there have been 446 running backs to fall into this category, the fact that Ridley has matched a feat only accomplished by Tomlinson is quite impressive.

Though his 2012 season puts him in rare company, Ridley's not being ranked or drafted as a RB1 this summer. His value seems to be very well-established as a RB2, whether at the top of the tier in standard scoring leagues or the bottom in PPR. Considering what the Patriots have lost (Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Brandon Lloyd) and the fact that oft-injured Danny Amendola is the only proven commodity to replace them, one would expect Ridley to get at least as many carries as he did in 2012 (290). So how can a 24 year-old back that figures to get at least the same workload be valued lower than his previous year's performance?

Questions about Ridley's ability to repeat start with his head coach. Bill Belichick is notorious for coming up with something no one saw coming. More importantly, in the 13 seasons Belichick has coached the Patriots, he's never had a running back post back-to-back 1000 yard seasons. Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis all ran for more than 1000 yards in their first year as the team's lead back. None of the three ever topped 1000 yards in a Patriots uniform again.

Part of the reason for this is that Belichick has never been a one-back man. When Smith was the lead back, Kevin Faulk and Marc Edwards were combining for 50-60 catches a year. Dillon had Faulk to deal with, in addition to Patrick Pass, Heath Evans, and eventually Laurence Maroney. Danny Woodhead, Faulk, and even Ridley himself siphoned touches from Green-Ellis. Even last year when Ridley received 290 carries Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden combined for another 244 touches out of the backfield. The Patriots had the second most rushing attempts in all of football last season, but Ridley wasn't in the top ten in touches.

The fact remains that the Patriots should run the ball at least as much as last season, and Ridley should be the main benefactor. Ridley may not be the most complete back on the team, that designation probably belongs to Shane Vereen, but he's the best fit as a workhorse. Leon Washington is a kick returner, and maybe a scat back, Brandon Bolden is still far from proven, and LeGarrette Blount was terrible in 2012. It's likely that all of these backs will touch the ball, but Ridley should still receive the lion's share of the carries.

If the Patriots ran the ball more than almost anyone else in 2012 with Welker, Lloyd, and Hernandez as options they no longer have, they may run it even more in 2013. While Bill Belichick is unpredictable in some ways, in others he's not. He will do what works and play to the strength of his team. The strength is at quarterback, but Tom Brady has so few recognizable targets, that I fully expect Belilchick to start the year off by pounding the ball down opponent's throats.

While the Patriots lack of reliable offensive weapons may be a benefit when it comes to touches, it may also be a detriment when it comes to production. The Patriots are not likely to match last season's offensive production, which will mean less red zone opportunities for Ridley. Also, if the team does not gel through the air early, we may see teams focus more on the run than the pass for the first time in many years. This could absolutely affect Ridley's YPC.

POSITIVES

  • Trent Richardson was the only back younger than Ridley to score more fantasy points than him last year
  • Ridley plays on a team that figures to run the ball more than almost any other team in the league
  • Ridley should see a majority of the team's red zone carries unless his issues with fumbles resurface

NEGATIVES

  • Ridley needs to be pretty close to mistake free, because Belichick has a short leash at RB
  • He is no threat in the passing game, which means a big drop from standard leagues to PPR

PROJECTIONS

  RUSH RU YDS RU TD REC RE YDS RE TD
Heath Cummings Projections 285 1190 8 8 66 0
David Dodds Projections 245 1054 10 6 46 0

FINAL THOUGHTS

Ridley should be a borderline RB1 in standard scoring leagues and a solid RB2 in PPR leagues. He will get a large percentage of the Patriots 1st and 2nd down runs and has the skill set to churn out 4 yards per carry consistently. As with any player other than Tom Brady, the Belichick effect presents some risk, but compared to other backs in this range Ridley's risk is really pretty low. His lack of PPR production means that is ceiling is also fairly low. He represents a fairly solid value with his current ADP of RB15 in standard scoring leagues, but he's going off the board at RB17 in PPR leagues which may be a hair too high.

OTHER VIEWPOINTS

Greg Brosh at Fantasy Knuckleheads wrote:

Stevan Ridley is a hard runner to bring down. With a current average of 4.75 yards a carry over the last 2 years, he's one of the better running backs in terms of yardage. This year should see improvement in that area. Beat writer Jeff Howe Tweeted that Ridley showed up to OTAs "looking like a house" after adding muscle in the offseason.

Read more here.

Adam Rank at NFL.com wrote:

Bill Belichick is worse than Mike Shanahan when it comes to running back-by-committee. Seriously, LeGarrette Blount is going to be in the mix. Dad gum it! Why can't we have anything nice, Bill?

Read more here.

Nicholas Minnix at KFFL wrote:

Really, the focus should probably be on the Patriots who line up behind Brady in the backfield. Obviously, Stevan  Ridley leads that crew. We saw him emerge as a pretty solid RB2 in 2012, and he unquestionably has room to expand his statistical prowess, even if his club doesn't involve him in the aerial attack more often.

Read more here.


More from Heath Cummings:

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