The Patriots change their odds in the NFL crap shoot by drafting doubles. They had trouble drafting skill players, particularly in the higher rounds (e.g. Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Ben Watson, Laurence Maroney, and Taylor Price), so they started doubling up. The 2010 class featured Rob Gronkowski (42nd) and Aaron Hernandez (113th). The 2011 class included Shane Vareen (56th) and Stevan Ridley (73rd). Last year, they nabbed Aaron Dobson (59th) and Josh Boyce (102nd) – and even scored Kenbrell Thompkins in free agency.
Nominally, it’s draft redundancy. Two tight ends. Two running backs. Two wide receivers. A closer look indicates otherwise. Hernandez was an entirely different player than Gronkowski. Vareen is more of a third-down back, whereas Ridley takes first and second downs. Dobson is a big, stretch-the-field receiver; Boyce opens things up in the middle of the field. They have insurance in case one prospect doesn’t work out, and if they both succeed, they bring different elements to the offense. It’s redundant when it needs to be and complementary in a perfect world.
|ROOKIE YEAR||SECOND YEAR|
|2011: HERNANDEZ AND GRONKOWSKI||100 touches, 1,156 yards 16 TD||175 touches, 2,284 yards, 36 TD|
|2012: VAREEN AND RIDLEY||105 touches, 503 yards, 2 TD||366 touches, 1,714 yards, 7 TD|
|2013: DOBSON AND BOYCE||46 touches, 538 yards, 4 TD||????|
|2013: DOBSON AND THOMPKINS||69 touches, 984 yards, 8 TD||????|
The New England TE party changed the way offenses run in the NFL, but that was short-lived with the Hernandez arrest and Gronkowski’s injuries. Many deem tight end a need for the Patriots this off season, so even their redundant draft strategy has failed them – though these have been unusual circumstances. Until last season however, the tight ends were handling the bulk of the offensive load.
The disappearance of tight end production made way for the Patriots’ running back draft picks – and LeGarrette Blount, who made great use of Ridley’s fumbling woes this season. However, the Patriots should stick with Ridley and work with him on fumbling like the Giants did with Tiki Barber. It’s correctable. The Ridley-Vareen tandem is like a good Tetris game. When one is injured or benched, the other steps up and fills the hole. Their different running styles make for one complete prototypical NFL stable, so when they do end up on the starting roster on the same day, the Patriots backfield becomes unwieldy for opposing defenses.
Which leaves us with the receiver class…
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