Week Sixteen Analysis:
Shane Vereen won't be getting a Christmas card from fantasy owners this year. One week after posting 12 catches, 162 combo yards and a score, Vereen was a complete no-show in Miami when it mattered most. He's totaled just five carries the last two weeks, so he's been less of a dual-threat and more of a reception-dependent fantasy option. Furthermore, Baltimore ranks top-10 against opposing backs in both rushing and receiving yards. In fact, only one back topped 42 receiving yards against them all season, so this is a dicey matchup. Vereen averaged 11 targets in his five games prior to last week, so he should bounce back to some degree, but New England's offense is so fluid that we're always chasing a moving target.
Week Fifteen Analysis:
On the ground, Shane Vereen has only averaged six carries for 21 yards and a quarter-touchdown in the four games since his return. But that's all gravy. With Rob Gronkowski sidelined, Vereen's monstrous role in the passing game is now set in stone. Last week his 17 targets, 12 catches and 153 yards all ranked second in the entire NFL, behind only Andre Johnson. It was the fourth time in five games that he's been targeted at least 10 times. This week he takes those targets to South Beach, where the Dolphins rank bottom-third against backs in both receptions and receiving yards.
Week Fourteen Analysis:
The fact that the butter-fingered Stevan Ridley was a healthy scratch in Houston bodes extremely well for Shane Vereen going forward. He scored his first touchdown of the season last week, and he's now cracked double-digit carries in back-to-back games. Through the air, he's averaged seven catches for 55 yards in his four games, which is elite for a running back. Cleveland allows just 3.4 yards per carry, and they've only given up one touchdown to the position in their last five games. However, they're middle-of-the-road against backs in the passing game, so I think you err on the side of starting Vereen.
Week Thirteen Analysis:
In three games this season, Shane Vereen has ranged from 1-to-14 carries, and from 7-to-101 rushing yards. However, his bread and butter is the passing game, where he's caught seven, eight, and eight balls for between 58 and 65 yards. His 18 touches against Denver Sunday night were double the nine he got in his first week back, so while he's yet to hit pay dirt this year, it's only a matter of time. Against opposing backs, Houston ranks bottom-10 in rushing yards and top-10 in receiving yards, so it's an upside down matchup for Vereen. Still, with both Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount fumbling last week, Vereen feels like a safe bet.
Week Twelve Analysis:
In two games this season, Shane Vereen has totaled 15 catches for 123 yards. He's basically the same player Darren Sproles used to be—a consistently targeted pass-catching specialist with an inconsistent role in the run game. Denver is a top-five run defense that's also above average against opposing backs in both receptions and receiving yardage. For that reason, their league-worst five receiving touchdowns allowed to backs feels a bit fluky. Still, the Patriots are likely to struggle running the ball between the tackles, and they'll need to put up points to keep pace with Denver, so it feels like a Vereen kind of game.
Week One Analysis:
In addition to working behind Stevan Ridley in the running game, Shane Vereen will be used as a movable chess piece to patch holes and create mismatches in the Patriots passing game. We saw a great example of this in the very first preseason game, when Vereen lined up at wide receiver and caught a 13-yard fade for a touchdown against a helpless linebacker. Buffalo was brutal against opposing backs last season, ranking 29th in rushing yardage and dead last in touchdowns. Perhaps even more importantly, Vereen's predecessor, Danny Woodhead, scored a receiving touchdown in both matchups between these teams last season. With Buffalo integrating new linebackers into an exotic new system, Vereen should do very well.
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Last season, Patriots backs finished top-3 in rushing attempts, yardage and touchdowns. And considering Tom Brady's depleted arsenal, there should be plenty of handoffs to go around once again. Shane Vereen accounted for just 12.8 percent of New England's league-leading 485 attempts, but he figures to absorb most of Danny Woodhead's 15.7-percent slice of the pie this season. More importantly, he'll take over Woodhead's role in the passing game, which netted 40 catches for 446 yards and three scores last season. In fact, the Patriots have been moving the versatile Vereen all over the formation, including split out at receiver. Vereen is a more gifted athlete than Woodhead, and could be a PPR force as Tom Brady's projected safety blanket.