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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
Report: Falcons' Dezmen Southward undergoes knee surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(8:47 pm ET) Falcons defensive backs Dezmen Southward underwent a minor-knee operation Wednesday, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Southward did not attend Tuesday's OTA and it is not known how long he'll be sidelined.


Julius Thomas trying to fit into Jaguars' offense
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(8:30 pm ET) Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas said after Wednesday's organized team activity that he intends to make it work with quarterback Blake Bortles, reports The Florida Times-Union.

"There is no 'Here's me coming in, and Blake's going to get on my page.' I'm going to be on Blake's page," Thomas said. "Whatever he expects, that's what I am going to do. He's the quarterback. He's the one in control of that huddle, and I like catching passes so I will make sure I do exactly what he wants."

With Thomas entering his first season with the Jaguars, he said it will take time to develop a rapport with Bortles.

"I think that getting good chemistry with a quarterback probably takes a couple of thousand passes," Thomas said.


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(7:38 pm ET) With the Cowboys just beginning their organized team activities this week, running back Darren McFadden said he just wants to concentrate on becoming familiar with the team, reports the team's official website.

"For me, I'm just going out there grinding," he said. "However the coaches put me out there – whether it's first team or second team. When it comes time for them to make a decision, it's totally up to them. I'm just trying to get that playbook down and take advantage of this opportunity."

McFadden is competing with Joseph Randle to be the first-team running back, and he said he just wants to work hard and not worry about how many repetitions he's receiving with the first team.

"Once you've been in a place so long like Oakland, you can get set in your ways," McFadden said Wednesday, after his second OTA practice with the Cowboys. "Coming out here and being around guys that work so hard, it just brings out the best in you. It's something I look forward to."


Chiefs' Mike Catapano on his health: I feel better than ever
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(6:41 pm ET) After missing the entire 2014 season with a gastrointestinal virus, Chiefs defensive end Mike Catapano was able to participate in the team's OTA on Wednesday, reports The Kansas City Star.

"Every time I step on the field now it's with purpose and with extra vigor that I never really had," Catapano said. "It feels great. I feel better than ever."

Catapano played in 15 games during his rookie season in 2013 and he totaled four tackles and one sack. He said he's ready to surpass that in 2015.

"I'm ready to show that I offer a lot to this team. I'm ready to step up in big situations and starting situations," Catapano said. "I just want to keep getting better every day… and play to the best of my abilities."


Broncos' Manning, Sanders keeping up with Thomas during holdout
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(6:05 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is holding out of offseason workouts while he continues to negotiate a long-term deal with the team, but teammates Emmanuel Sanders and Peyton Manning have been keeping up with the star receiver, the Denver Post reports.

"One thing a lot of people don’t realize is when you’re playing on a one-year deal, there’s a lot of things going through your head," Sanders said. "As much as you guys want to say, ‘Don’t think about it,' of course it’s going to cross your mind because you’re talking about a lot of money at stake. When you’re playing these one-year deals, it’s a lot of stress on you. No matter how much you don’t want it to be, it’s going to happen. We’re all human."

Manning would like to have Thomas in workouts but understands the business aspects of his decision.

"I keep up with Demaryius. He’s my buddy," Manning said. "They got that business side of it to work out, but he’s been a great teammate to me, been a great friend to me since I’ve been here in Denver, so I keep up with him. Obviously want him to get back here as soon as possible, but we want what’s best for him, and he certainly deserves what’s best for him."

Thomas has started 16 games for three straight season, topping 90 receptions, 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns in each.


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(5:30 pm ET) The Raiders have signed linebacker Horace Miller and wide receiver Milton Williams, the team announced on Wednesday.

Miller was waived by the Panthers earlier this offseason after spending one week on the active roster but seeing no playing time. Williams originally signed with the Raiders earlier this month before being waived a few days later.


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(5:23 pm ET) Titans defensive end DaQuan Jones started the final game of his rookie season against the Colts and is on track to open the 2015 season in the same role, The Tennessean reports.

"He's a starter at end, it's what we project," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "In the last game against Indianapolis, Jones played really well."

A fourth-round pick out of Penn State, Jones finished his rookie season with 13 tackles and one sack, with the sack and more than half of his tackles coming in his lone start at the end of the year.


Browns waive Nick McDonald
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(5:13 pm ET) The Browns waived offensive lineman Nick McDonald with an injury designation (knee), the team announced on Wednesday.

McDonald made seven starts at center last season after spending the first six weeks of the season on the reserve/non-football injury list with a wrist issue.


Titans DT Sammie Lee Hill diagnosed with knee sprain
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(5:08 pm ET) Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said Wednesday defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill was diagnosed with a knee sprain, reports The Tennessean.

Hill the sustained the injury Tuesday, but he won't require surgery.


Texans LB Brian Cushing on his health: Best I've felt in a while
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(4:53 pm ET) Texans linebacker Brian Cushing participated in Wednesday's OTA and he said he hasn't been this healthy in a long time, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"I'm the best physically I've been in a while," he said.

During the offseason, Cushing had surgery on his broken right wrist as well as arthroscopic procedures on his left knee and left ankle. He was able to play in 14 games in 2014 after only appearing in 13 games during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.


 
 
 
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