After missing eight games with a broken wrist, Shane Vereen made a triumphant return to the Patriots lineup on Monday night. Despite claims that he would be eased back into the offense, Vereen played almost half of the snaps in his first game back and led New England in targets, catches, and receiving yards. While he only recorded a single carry behind Stevan Ridley and LeGarette Blount, it’s clear that Vereen remains an instrumental part of what the Patriots want to do on offense, and fantasy owners that held onto or trade for Vereen while he was out are about to be rewarded for the season’s stretch run.
Tom Brady and company have struggled at times this season, particularly as key parts of the offense – Vereen included – missed multiple games. As Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and finally Vereen worked their way back into the lineup, however, the Patriots offense has been surging. And after eleven weeks, New England is 11th in the league in total yards per game and ranks 8th in scoring at 25.4 points per contest. Over the last six weeks of the season, the Patriots face mediocre-to-poor defenses that concede an average of more than 24 points per game, meaning Vereen is getting back into the mix at just the right time
Fantasy owners might be concerned about Vereen’s lack of carries against Carolina on Monday, but it was good to seee him rip off a seven-yard run on his only touch in the ground game. For the season, Vereen is averaging 7.2 yards per carry and has demonstrated his ability to contribute to the running attack. Ridley has been the primary ball carrier, but continues to be plagued by fumbling problems, and the remaining handoffs have mostly been divided between Blount and Brandon Bolden. It’s easy to envision Vereen wrestling carries away from the latter two, but if ball security remains a problem for Ridley, Vereen could easily find himself with 10-15 totes per game for the league’s ninth best rushing offense.
Regardless of whether he pushes Ridley for lead-back status in the run game, the Patriots will continue to get the ball into Vereen’s hands. In just two games this season, Vereen has amassed 15 receptions on 21 targets, lining up as a receiver in addition to catching the ball out of the backfield. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him continue to get double-digit targets in each of the Patriots remaining games, making Vereen particularly valuable to fantasy owners in PPR leagues.