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This article will make some assumptions, that all players on the current roster will return healthy and that all players on the current roster will be on the roster come time for preseason. Both large assumptions, but what else can you do this time of year? In addition, I omitted players that are super long shots.
2013 RBs under contract: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, James Devlin (FB),
Losses to FA: LeGarrette Blount
The running back position had a welcome and unexpected addition at draft time last year as the Patriots shipped Jeff Demps and the 229th overall pick in the draft to the Tampa Bay Bucs for LeGarrette Blount. Blount was viewed at that time as a big back to compliment Stevan Ridley, the incumbent starter, and Shane Vereen, the 3rd down receiving back.
In the very first game of the season against the Buffalo Bills, Ridley decided to fumble away the starting gig and despite a breakout performance from Vereen, he was lost at the end of game for the next 2+ months of the season.
Re-enter the days of the backfield time share. For the rest of the season there was no telling who was getting the ball, when or in what situation. Bount filled in admirable and offered some unexpected versatility as he took over the kick return duties.
Now as Blount is a FA and Vereen and Ridley enter their contract seasons with checkered performance history it is tough to gauge what the Patriots will do to address the position
Top FA targets: While not as cheap as filling this position through the draft, RB is no longer a premium pay position, particularly for the Patriots who do not place a lot of value on the position. Re-signing Blount is the most likely scenario, but here are a couple other options.
Darren McFadden – McFadden is exactly where the Patriots want their FA prospects to be, his stock is about as low as it has ever been as he is coming off another injury riddled, unproductive season. A one-year prove it deal will be right up his alley.
Maurice Jones-Drew – MJD is on the downside of his career, but will be playoff hungry and most likely come fairly cheaply. If nothing else, he may be worth a camp contract.
Toby Gerhart – Gerhart comes out of the same mold as Blount, big slow back, but could offer good ball security and a short-down prescene.
Top Draft targets: Considering the Patriots have 3 running backs under contract, I don’t expect for RBs to be selected in the draft, although as we all know, there is no predicting the Patriots draft strategy. They entered the 2013 draft with the same stable and exited it with what turned out to be a major contributor.
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State – Hyde is one of the highest rated RBs in the 2014 draft, but at 6’, 235lbs, he is an absolute bruiser that gives the Patriots a young dynamic that they do not currently have. Hyde will most likely be available in the 2nd round.
Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona – Carey is another bruiser with excellent sustained college production, 3,814 yards with 42 touchdowns his last 2 years. In addition he offers a decent threat as a receiving back with 62 receptions for 476 yards and 2 TDs during the same time period. If the Pats go RB early, I hope this is their guy.