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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
Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders limited by hip injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/25/2014) Broncos wideout Emmanuel Sanders was limited in practice for the second straight day Thursday due to a hip injury, reports the Denver Post. He's fully expected to start Sunday's game against the Raiders.

Denver, which will clinch a first-round bye with a victory, is a two-touchdown favorite.

Playing with Peyton Manning, Sanders has set career highs with 95 catches for 1,331 yards and nine touchdowns. He caught five balls for 67 yards and two scores in the Week 10 win at Oakland.


Jets add RB Chris Ivory (hamstring) to injury report
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/25/2014) The Jets added running back Chris Ivory to the injury report Thursday, saying he was limited by a hamstring injury, reports ESPN.com. Ivory, who's battled hamstring problems in the past, leads New York with 792 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

The Jets are 6-point underdogs in Sunday's season finale at Miami. Ivory was held to 62 rushing yards on 16 carries in the Week 13 home loss to the Dolphins.


Lions WR Calvin Johnson returns to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/25/2014) Lions wideout Calvin Johnson, held out Wednesday due to an ankle injury, returned to a limited practice Thursday ahead of Sunday's NFC North showdown at Green Bay. Johnson caught six passes for 82 yards in the first meeting with the Packers.

Update: Lions RB Joique Bell 'should be fine' for Sunday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/25/2014) Lions running back Joique Bell (Achilles) practiced fully Thursday after being limited Wednesday and "should be fine" for Sunday's game at Green Bay, reports the team's website. Earlier reports indicated Bell's status was in doubt, especially after coach Jim Caldwell replied, "We'll see," when asked if Bell would be able to play.

Bell leads Detroit with 800 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns, including five in the past four games. The Lions are 7.5-point underdogs in the game for the NFC North crown.


Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles limited Thursday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/25/2014) Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles was limited in Thursday's practice with hamstring and ankle injuries, per the team's website. He'll play Sunday against the Chargers in a game with playoff implications.

Kansas City is a 3-point home favorite.


Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe still sidelined
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/25/2014) Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe missed his second straight practice Thursday due to a shoulder injury. Bowe sprained his shoulder in the Week 16 loss at Pittsburgh.

His status is uncertain for Sunday's home game against San Diego.


Falcons WRs Roddy White, Harry Douglas back at practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/25/2014) Falcons receivers Roddy White (ankle) and Harry Douglas (foot) returned to practice Thursday ahead of Sunday's division-deciding game against Carolina. While wideout Julio Jones (oblique) remained sidelined, he's expected to start opposite White with Douglas serving as the No. 3 receiver.

Atlanta is a 4-point home favorite to capture the NFC South.


Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph not looking good for Week 17
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/25/2014) Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph remained unable to practice Thursday due to knee and ankle injuries, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It appears he'll miss his second straight game Sunday against Chicago, with Chase Ford getting another start.

Minnesota is a 6-point home favorite.


Bengals WR A.J. Green (arm) returns to practice
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/25/2014) Bengals receiver A.J. Green (bruised bicep) returned to a limited practice Thursday, reports the team's website. Green now seems likely to play Sunday at Pittsburgh with the AFC North title at stake.

Even in an injury-plagued year, Green leads Cincy with 61 catches for 959 yards and six touchdowns. How effective he'll be Sunday night remains to be seen. But Green's return to practice is good news for the Bengals, who are 3.5-point underdogs.

In the first meeting with the Steelers, Green exploded for 11 catches for 224 yards and a touchdown.


Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray out sick Thursday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/25/2014) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray won't practice Thursday. He was sent home because he's sick, reports the Dallas Morning News.

Murray, who underwent surgery Dec. 15 on his broken left hand, is fully expected to play Sunday at Washington after getting 22 carries in the Week 16 blowout of the Colts. Dallas is favored by 5.5 or 6 points at Vegas sportsbooks.


 
 
 
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