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2014 Draft Prep: Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley will dominate

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Forget the headline you just read. Clear your mind and pretend you stumbled upon this column by chance. We want your thoughts to be unbiased.

Are you ready? Let's begin.

How would you feel about a running back with 1,263 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns? What about another running back with 88 carries for 408 yards and two touchdowns and 94 catches for 854 yards and six touchdowns?

Well, the first one is Stevan Ridley. And the second one is Shane Vereen. But of course you knew that already.

Now, before you start thinking those stats are unrealistic, you have to realize those are Ridley's stats from 2012. And Vereen could have hit those numbers if you project his stats from 2013 over 16 games.

Ridley was a top-10 Fantasy running back in standard leagues in 2012, while Vereen would have been a top-15 running back last year. Can they reach those heights this season? I think they can.

Let's start with Vereen because he's the easy one to explain. He's also the best Fantasy option in this backfield.

In Week 1 last year against Buffalo, after Ridley lost a fumble, Vereen showed a glimpse of his potential with 14 carries for 101 yards and seven catches for 58 yards. But it was a only tease because he broke his wrist, knocking him out until Week 11.

For the season, he had 44 carries for 208 yards and one touchdown and 47 catches for 427 yards and three touchdowns in eight games. He finished with at least nine Fantasy points in a standard league in five of those outings.

He picked up where last season ended with a strong performance against Carolina in the third preseason game, which I attended. Vereen had six carries for 18 yards and five catches for 57 yards and two touchdowns. He also impressed his quarterback and coach.

"He made some great plays tonight," Tom Brady said. "He's been that way -- he's really had such a dependable role for us for the last few years and just done a great job. When the ball is in his hands, good things are happening for our team. We're going to try to just keep getting him the ball."

Added Bill Belichick: "Shane works hard. He's a very dependable guy and he does a good job for us."

Vereen, who has struggled with injuries in his three-year career, told me after the Panthers game his goal this season is to stay healthy. As you would expect, he said a featured role is not something he desires, he only wants to win.

But he said the role he has for New England is a fun one. He gets to be the next Kevin Faulk or Danny Woodhead as the running back catching passes from Brady, which has been great at times for Fantasy owners.

"I'm fortunate enough to be in this system where I can do so much," Vereen said. "Not too many systems are like this. Not too many systems allow their backs to do this much. I'm fortunate and I have fun with it. It keeps it fresh."

We wish Ridley felt as free as Vereen, but his fumble problem likely has him on edge -- as well as Fantasy owners. He has lost eight fumbles in his three-year career, including seven the past two seasons.

Hopefully this year he can hold onto the ball and dominate like he did in 2012, but he's already fumbled once this preseason, which isn't a good sign. Still, based on talent, Ridley is the best pure rusher on the roster, and Belichick might not have another choice but to stick with him.

If that's the case, there's a lot to like about Ridley. For starters, we've already seen him play at a high level once, and the Patriots should have a lot of success running the ball. They were second in the NFL last season with 19 rushing touchdowns and Ridley would be a candidate for double digits in scores if he can secure his role.

Another positive for Ridley is his price tag. His Average Draft Position is No. 86 overall, which is Round 8 in a 12-team league. That's like stealing if you draft him there and he rebounds to his 2012 level.

Vereen's ADP is No. 44 overall and he's definitely worth a pick in Round 4 in standard leagues. In PPR formats, I'd draft him toward the end of Round 2. He might not reach 90-plus receptions like he was on pace for last season, but he could catch at least 70 passes in this offense.

I would consider drafting both Vereen and Ridley because I expect them to be special. Vereen is the easy choice, but Ridley is the risk. Still, in Round 8, it's a risk worth taking.

If things work out right, this could be the best Fantasy running back duo. The season is upon us, so we'll find out if they can make it happen.

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Player News
Bills awarded waiver claim for QB Matt Simms
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(8:28 pm ET) The quarterback situation in Buffalo has gotten a little more complicated on Friday. The Bills were awarded their waiver claim on QB Matt Simms, who was released by the Jets on Thursday, according to the team's official website. 

Simms has played just four games and has completed 19 of 39 passes for 195 yards, with a touchdown and an interception in his career.


Falcons waive LB Prince Shembo due to animal cruelty charges
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5:55 pm ET) The Falcons have decided to waive linebacker Prince Shembo on Friday after he was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, per nfl.com.

"We are aware of the charges that have been filed against Prince Shembo," the team said in a statement. "We are extremely disappointed that one of our players is involved in something like this. Accordingly, we have decided to waive Prince Shembo."

Shembo recorded 59 tackles in 16 games for the Falcons last season.


Rams RB Trey Watts suspended four games
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:08 pm ET) Rams running back Trey Watts has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, according to profootballtalk.com.

Watts, who made the team in 2014 as an undrafted free agent, played in 14 games last season and rushed for 30 yards on seven carries.

Watts is eligible to return for Week 5 against the Packers.


Falcons LB Prince Shembo charged with cruelty to animals
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(3:57 pm ET) Falcons linebacker Prince Shembo is being accused of killing his ex-girlfriend's dog and has been charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Police said Denicia Williams, Shembo's ex-girlfriend, reported on April 19 that Shembo had killed her Yorkie.

Williams took the dog to Shembo's residence and left them unattended at some point. When she returned, the dog was unresponsive.

Shembo recorded 59 tackles in 16 games for the Falcons last season.


Seahawks' Kam Chancellor: 'This is the strongest offseason I've had'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:56 pm ET) Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor feels good. He should, he's finally healthy.

Chancellor, who has become accustomed to rehabbing nagging injuries during the offseason, is practicing with the team during organized team activities for the first time in a while, per The News Tribune.

“I feel great. Back to football form. Feel fast. Feel strong. I just feel good out there," Chancellor said. "I think this is the strongest offseason I’ve had since I’ve been in the league. I’ve been actually able to train in the offseason instead of having surgeries.”

Chancellor recorded 78 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in 14 games last season.


Cardinals RB coach: David Johnson 'reminds me a lot of Matt Forte'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(2:44 pm ET) Cardinals rookie runningback David Johnson received a huge compliment from his position coach, per nfl.com.

Running backs coach Stump Mitchell said the third-round pick reminds him of a Pro Bowl running back.

"He reminds me a lot of Matt Forte," Mitchell said. "You can put him outside and use him as a receiver and he's a good runner."

Mitchell sees the comparison between the two when it comes to Johnson's ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, something Forte has excelled at throughout his career.

"He has excellent hands and he's a bigger target to throw the ball to," Mitchell said. "He's going to be a big piece of the puzzle before this season is said and done."

Johnson rushed for 1,553 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at Northern Iowa last year.


Patriots Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler absent at OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:30 pm ET) Patriots cornerback and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler was noticeably absent from organized team activities on Friday, per nesn.com. It's unclear why Butler was not at practice.

Butler recorded 15 tackles in 11 games last season, but most noticeably came up with a game-clinching interception in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIX.


Cowboys excited and cautious with return of LB Sean Lee
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(1:22 pm ET) Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee tore his ACL during organized team activities last year. This year, he has been limited to individual drills during non-padded parctices, per The Dallas Morning News.

Cowboys linebackers coach Matt Eberflus said the team is happy to have Lee back but that they will pace him along slowly.

"He's a ball of energy and excitement and that represents who we are," Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "He's moving well. We're just being smart as we get him ready to go. But he's got a lot of good quality work in."


Chiefs' Jeremy Maclin getting work in as a punt returner
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:59 pm ET) Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was the Chiefs' prized free-agent pickup this offseason, which makes it that much more intriguing that he lined up to return punts during practice on Thursday, per ESPN.com.

Maclin, who signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Chiefs, was a premier punt returner in college and played the role sparingly -- with little success -- with the Eagles.

Coach Andy Reid said the team is preparing Maclin just in case he's needed to return punts or kicks because of injuries.

We just want to make sure he is ready,’’ Reid said. “You have limited numbers that you can dress on game day, so you don’t know what rotation you are going to have there with the receivers and returners. So it gives you an opportunity to keep him fresh. We don’t work him every day like the other guys. It’s kind of an every other day deal, so just to make sure that he’s okay and can still do that, but he’s not going to be the primary guy doing it right now.”


Eagles CB Byron Maxwell guarantees trip to Super Bowl 50
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(12:40 pm ET) Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell knows what it takes to make a Super Bowl run, he's appeared in two straight as a key member of the vaunted Seahawks defense.

Now, Maxwell is confident the Eagles will make a run to the big game and he will make his third consecutive appearance, per NFL.com.

"Because I've been there before," Maxwell said. "Knowing what it's like if we go that far. Because we're gonna go that far this year, meaning the playoffs and the Super Bowl. We're gonna go that far. Hopefully that experience I already had, I can help them."

The Eagles haven't made a Super Bowl since their 24-21 loss to the Patriots in 2004, but Maxwell didn't backtrack with his comments.

"You can take that as a guarantee," he said. "That's just me believing in my team and the product we're going to put out there on the field. I really do believe that. I have no choice but to think that way."

Maxwell, who signed a six-year, $60 million deal with the Eagles this offseason, recorded 39 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games last season.


 
 
 
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