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Ridley's reality doesn't match perception

Posted Aug 25, 2014

Stevan Ridley isn't the home-run hitter many fans believe he is.

It’s interesting how perceptions can sometimes become reality.

Stevan Ridley was a topic of conversation on the morning talk shows in Boston on Monday, ostensibly because the highly respected Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com did not include the Patriots top running back in his latest roster projection. Reiss’ reasoning dealt with the paucity of snaps Ridley received during Friday’s preseason win over Carolina, a game that generally offers the most realistic look at things as we’ll see them during the regular season.

Whether Ridley in fact is cut is not really the point. In fact, I believe he remains the team’s lone option as a true ball carrier between the tackles on a consistent basis. Shane Vereen and James White are capable to mixing things up, but it would be unwise for either to rack up 250 carries given their modest size, and in Vereen’s case injury history.

Ridley’s fumbles are a major concern, but given the lack of options it would be a surprise to see him go at least until the league-wide cuts are made and other options present themselves. I believe the Patriots will be scouring the waiver wire come Labor Day Weekend looking for a workhorse-type back – perhaps even BenJarvus Green-Ellis if he’s jettisoned by Cincinnati. But until then, Ridley would appear to be a needed commodity.

So, how does perception fail to match Ridley’s reality? Listening to the discussion this morning there appears to be two factors regarding the fourth-year back’s play that don’t seem to be accurate. The first is that he’s a big-play back and the second is that he doesn’t fumble as often as most others.

The first part is flat-out wrong. Ridley is not a home-run hitter and his stats prove that unequivocally. He’s had 555 career carries and exactly two of those have resulted in runs of more than 30 yards. That’s barely doubles power let alone home-run distance. He had a 33-yard touchdown run in his rookie year and a 41-yarder the following season.

That’s it.

As a comparison, LeGarrette Blount, 250-pound LeGarrette Blount, had three runs of better than 30 yards last season as the backup. He added runs of 73 and 30 yards in the playoffs. I’m not sure many people would describe Blount as a home-run hitter but the fact is he was much more likely to turn in a big play than Ridley.

Green-Ellis, the man Ridley replaced, was thought to be a between-the-tackles plodder who took care of the ball. In four years in New England he averaged 4 yards a carry and scored 29 touchdowns. Ridley, the more “dynamic” of the two, averaged 4.6 yards a carry and scored 20 touchdowns in his three seasons. Not much of a difference, other than the fumbles.

Which leads us to the second part, one that is a bit more subjective. Ridley has fumbled nine times in his first three seasons (once every 64 touches), and people are quick to point to Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson’s ball security issues as a point of reference. Peterson fumbled 20 times during his first three seasons, which translates to once every 51 touches.

Even disregarding Peterson’s obvious production, that’s just one of Ridley’s contemporaries. The Jets Chris Johnson (once every 152 touches), Philly’s LeSean McCoy (1/160), Chicago’s Matt Forte (1/98) and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch (1/106) all fumble much less frequently than Ridley.

So the notion that fumbles are inevitable for talented running backs who have the ball in their hands frequently isn’t true.

Ridley remains a talented running back and given the Patriots pass-oriented offense he should be a solid complementary piece to the attack. But if Bill Belichick has decided to move on because the fumbles have grossly overshadowed the lack of big plays, he wouldn’t be wrong.

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