Despite having one of the greatest passing offenses in NFL history, the Patriots also had a stable of talented young running backs in 2011, and the outlook could be bright in 2012.
Still, the running game left something to be desired this season. The Patriots ranked 20th in the NFL in total rushing yards (1,764), but they were third in rushing touchdowns (18).
Let’s take a look at a young group that could see some key changes in the near future.
Running Backs on Final Roster: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Lousaka Polite (fullback)
Key Statistic: BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the Patriots in carries (181), rushing yards (667) and rushing touchdowns (11), but Stevan Ridley was in control over the last three games of the regular season with a team-high 39 carries and 210 yards.
Hot Topic: Kevin Faulk has a decision to make about his future, and it’s very possible one of the franchise’s all-time greats decides to retire this offseason. Faulk worked his tail off to return to the field this season, but he wasn’t always part of the game plan, as evidenced by two healthy scratches in the last four games of the season (including the Super Bowl).
Faulk could have just struggled to get back to speed a season after tearing his ACL, which happened to quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Wes Welker in their first seasons back from the injury. And if that’s the case, Faulk could still feel like he’s got something left to contribute in 2012.
No one would deny Faulk’s impact off the field. He was a leader in the locker room as the Patriots ushered in a new cast of running backs, and for that, he was an asset. But Faulk said last week he wanted to get into coaching after his playing career, and that might be a more appealing option at this point.
Either way, that’s what Faulk must assess in the near future.
Offseason Question: Where will the position go from here?
Green-Ellis has every right to test the market to see if he can get paid like a 1,000-yard rusher, especially after his restricted tender only earned him $1.835 million in 2011. If Green-Ellis can earn that type of money, the Patriots might just congratulate him and wish him well as he moves on. But if teams are wary over his lack of breakaway speed and don’t break the bank for him, Bill Belichick would probably be keen on keeping his most dependable back.
Otherwise, Ridley showed some real promise during his rookie season, and Shane Vereen has some intriguing potential as a back who could be explosive in the passing game. Of course, Danny Woodhead played his best game of the season in the Super Bowl and fits into the equation, too.
It’s all based on the dynamic of Green-Ellis’ situation. Belichick is a big fan of Green-Ellis, but the Patriots invested second- and third-round picks on running backs in last year’s draft. There can only be so much spent on a position that has taken a backseat during the explosive passing era. This figures to be one of the most intriguing storylines of the Patriots’ offseason.