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The New England Patriots have the #1 offense in the NFL. They lead the league in yards, averaging 425.7 per game and lead the world in points, averaging 36.3 per game.
No news there right?
What is news is how balanced this Patriots offense has become.
After finishing 20th in rushing yards per game in 2011, the Patriots have become a much better running team. This season, the Patriots rank 7th in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 139.9 and 1st in the NFL in rushing first downs with 125.
The major change in the running game in 2012 has been the emergence of second-year running back Stevan Ridley. After fumble issues at the end of 2011, Ridley has proven to be an elite running back this season.
Ridley ranks as the 7th best in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,082 and is tied for 3rd in touchdowns with 10. The most dominating running back in the NFL, Adrian Peterson, also has 10 TDs this season.
Among backs with 200 carries or more, Ridley ranks 9th in the league, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Superstar running back Arian Foster has a 3.9 yard per carry average, 0.6 yards per carry lower than Ridley.
Not only has Ridley been effective with the ball, but he has carried the ball the 7th most in the NFL. Workhorse running back Ray Rice has carried the ball 25 times less than Ridley this season.
These numbers add up to a very productive player, but what about Ridley makes him so effective?
Over the past five seasons the Patriots have had Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis as their number one running backs. While all three were fairly effective, none were anywhere near as effective as Ridley has been this season.
Ridley has an aggressive running style; he hits the hole with power and speed and makes quick decisions. While he has patience to cut back, he is not one to dance in the back field, waiting for something to open up.
Not one to shy away from contact; Ridley rarely goes down after the initial hit, normally he has to be gang tackled. A solid 5-11 220 lbs., Ridley packs a wallop when he stiff arms defenders in the open field.
All these attributes combined add up to an excellent running back, so why was he drafted in the 3rd round??
The Patriots selected Ridley in the 2011 NFL draft. There were six running backs selected ahead of Ridley in that draft and one of them, Shane Vereen, was actually drafted by the Patriots. Here are the backs selected ahead of Ridley and their 2012 numbers:
Mark Ingram, 1st Rd 28th overall – 420 Yds, 3.8 Avg, 3 TD
Ryan Williams, 2nd Rd 38th overall – 164 Yds, 2.8 Avg, 0 TD
Shane Vereen, 2nd Rd 56th overall – 213 Yds, 3.9 Avg, 3 TD
Mikel Leshoure, 2nd Rd 57th overall – 640 Yds, 3.7 Avg, 7 TD
Daniel Thomas, 2nd Rd 62nd overall – 319 Yds, 3.5 Avg, 4 TD
DeMarco Murray, 3rd Rd 71st overall – 466 Yds, 3.9 Avg, 3 TD
Ridley has proven to be the best running back in that draft class.
Stevan Ridley, 3rd Rd 73rd overall – 1082 Yds, 4.5 Avg, 10 TD
At the combine, his 40 times were average at best for a backup running back at 4.65 seconds, his bench press was one of the lowest with only 18 reps (Vereen made 31), and his hands were questionable.
So teams thought he was slow, weak and couldn’t catch the ball out of the back field. Only the later has been partially correct.
Ridley has proven all 32 teams wrong. He worked on his body, shedding some weight in the offseason, has gotten stronger in the upper body and has re-invented his game.
The Patriots passed on him once as did every other team. Almost two whole seasons later he is making every NFL GM look bad.
Ridley is only 23 years old, out of the top 10 running backs in yards this season, he is the youngest. Ridley does need to work on his pass-catching abilities, it is really the only area in his game that he is lacking.
He has the body type where he can be successful carrying the football 250+ times a season consistently while still being effective. As Tom Brady gets older, Ridley’s role could increase more and more as the seasons pass.
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Daniel Thomas, DeMarco Murray, Laurence Maroney, Mark Ingram, Mikel Leshoure, Ray Rice, Ryan Williams, Sammy Morris, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Tom Brady