FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots' running attack just got a whole lot younger and even more dynamic.
New England shook up the draft boards Friday night by selecting two running backs in a row, California's Shane Vereen and LSU's Stevan Ridley, and their polar opposite styles will give the Patriots plenty of options in all phases of the game.
Vereen, who had 1,376 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns last season, is an elusive runner who will be most successful when he is sprung into space, and he'll be an asset as a third-down back in passing situations. He compared his style to former Cal teammate Jahvid Best, minus a little speed.
"I always take pride in myself in being able to do all things that are called on for a running back — catching the ball, pass protection, running the ball," said Vereen, who was taken with the draft's 56th pick. "Anything that is called on me to do, I always take pride in doing that to the best of my ability and being good in all of these stages."
Ridley is a bulldozer who will destroy oncoming defenders and bring Gillette Stadium to its feet. He's a powerful runner between the tackles, and he's coming off an 1,147-yard, 15-touchdown breakout campaign, which are some gaudy numbers in the SEC. He'll be an asset in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and he'll be a nightmare if he enters the game fresh in the fourth quarter.
"My biggest strength is going in there and finishing out games," said Ridley, the 73rd pick. "When the fourth quarter comes around, if you need that running game to go in there and finish it out, I think I get stronger as the game goes on."
Vereen is a Kevin Faulk-type who can be an asset in a few different phases of the game, and he'll be able to back up Danny Woodhead in passing situations. And if Faulk doesn't return, Vereen gives the Patriots more flexibility with that type of change-of-pace player who can look like a blur if he spells the slower, more powerful runners.
Ridley could eventually morph into a feature back, though he still needs some time to develop. He also gives the Patriots some insurance in case BenJarvus Green-Ellis receives an unexpectedly overwhelming offer as a restricted free agent during this offseason.
The Patriots were expected to add one back in this draft, but their changes were more of the wholesale variety after picking up Vereen and Ridley. That position will look very different in Foxboro next season, both in age and style, and the all-hands-on-deck approach will give the Patriots' offense flexibility and depth in each situation.
"They both have been productive at high levels of competition," Bill Belichick said of Vereen and Ridley. "I think they will complement each other well. We've had a little bit of age at that position, so this gives us a couple of young guys that will provide competition for the players that we have in that position."