Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead
Long shot: Brandon Bolden
Sproles, then ... good luck
Ridley's build makes him the most prototypical feature back to take over BenJarvus Green-Ellis' role, but in their committee work, the Pats are like the Redskins, except that the run game is typically even less of a priority.
In his rookie year, Ridley committed some key fumbles late in the year that resulted in his postseason exile. He's also a rhythm back that's not a smart bet to see workhorse reps. But he's the closest thing they have to a short-yardage and touchdown-sniffing option, and that counts for something as you get to the middle rounds, where he'll likely sit ripe for the taking.
The return of Josh McDaniels' offense likely means an increase in screen plays. Vereen, who succumbed to various injuries last year, and Woodhead will factor into the passing sets; Woodhead is the most traditional third-down protector and has the most trust of the coaching staff in a pass-first offense, but he's not draftable in most leagues because of his unpredictable stat patterns.
New England wants to see what the shifty Vereen offers. He's similar to Woodhead but is a much better inside runner more designed to take a beating; he's widely considered more naturally talented than Ridley.
Vereen is the second fantasy choice worth a trial in the final few stanzas; if Ridley's fumbling problems pop back up, the other rookie back from New England's 2011 class could easily step up.
Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory
The ground game is secondary in the Big Easy, but the diminutive, reception-happy Sproles will be on the field most of the time as the top option and serves as an RB2, safer as a 3, in PPRs.
The battle for secondary work between the three alternatives complicates the speculative rounds. Ingram's health might take away the need to have so many dump-offs to the scat backs. Those little screens were substitutes for a plow they now have. Though Pete Carmichael working without mentor Sean Payton won't veer too far off course, maybe the OC will stay on the ground and slow things down more often. They need a little balance, after all.
Thomas had 50 catches last year while picking up scraps. With Robert Meachem gone, enough targets could open up for him to yield flex contributions a few weeks during the season. He's the most versatile of the backs and would benefit from an injury to either specialist.
Ivory's fortunes are tied to Ingram's health, and he'll remain waiver-wire material until that works in his favor.
Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Lamar Miller
Long shot: Steve Slaton
The reception-friendly Bush will love this offense, which will get the ball in his hands through the air quickly and often. Bush showed more punch between the tackles in 2011, but he's not a consistent 1,000-yard rusher. Tony Sparano's pounding system is gone.
Though Mike Sherman has a history of cultivating workhorse-like backs, expect Miami to limit Bush's reps and play to his slasher strengths, knowing that it's a risk to expect another 15-game campaign from him. Joe Philbin said he's "not locked into one guy carrying the ball 23 times and the next guy carrying it seven."
A healthy Thomas would facilitate that diversity. Knee and hamstring woes - along with a woeful O-line - kept him from showing the snappy running they were hoping for. The bruiser will serve as the direct changeup to Bush and is draftable based on changeup work that could be flex-worthy.
Contrasting Thomas' style, Miller is a home run threat that could find himself lining up as a singleback with Bush at wideout. Still, Miller's reps will be fantasy significant only with a Bush injury - hardly a stretch, but hardly a reason to take a confident stab on draft day in normal-sized leagues.
A Giant problem?
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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