Rookie running back James White at Patriots practice, Stephan Savoia/AP

Stevan Ridley. Shane Vereen. James White. Brandon Bolden. Stephen Houston. Roy Finch. James Develin. What if I told you I could see any of these players making the roster for a number of very good reasons? How could a pair of undrafted free agent running backs compete for a roster spot against a trio of prime-aged veterans? What if I told you a rookie running back could redefine the Patriots' passing game? What if I said a fullback would play more as a tight end instead of his true postion? What if I said all but one of these players potentially will make the roster? Well here are the answers to those questions.

Let's start with the back most people expect to get the majority of the carries this year: Stevan Ridley. Last year was a down year for the one cut back due to fumblitist and LeGarrette Blount. Now that he has spent more time with Kevin Faulk learning how to not lose the football, and with Blount's departure to Pittsburgh, Ridley should once again return as the bell cow of New England's offense. He is a better between the tackles runner than his elusive counterparts Shane Vereen and James White, which will likely lead to him getting the majority of the carries. He will need to hold onto the football though or else the likes of Stephen Houston may takes some reps away on short yardage situations.

The next back on our list is Shane Vereen. Last year he was stymied by a wrist injury that required surgery. Before that injury Vereen looked very much like the rightful starter at running back, rushing for over 100 yards with that broken wrist in the first game of the season. So far, in OTAs and training camp, Vereen has shown he can catch footballs like a receiver, and has the speed and quickness to run out of the backfield. Without a doubt, Vereen could replace Ridley as the team's top back due to his versatility and dual threat capabilities.

After speaking relatively positively about Ridley and Vereen, I will not do so for Brandon Bolden. After being suspended in November of 2012, he hasn't had quite the impact he had early on in his rookie year. While he has always had the ability to seize a larger role in the offense, he just hasn't when Sundays come. He can catch the ball, but not as well as Vereen or White, and he can run the ball, but not as well as Ridley. The only area he has been able to contribute with that the others have not is special teams. That very well may make him valuable enough to keep around, but with these rookies, I don't know if it is enough.

The rookie most likely to make an impact on the Patriots is James White. When he was drafted, I didn't know much about him, but after some research it was clear why the Patriots wanted him: he can do everything. In college he ran the ball, caught the ball, returned kicks, picked up pass rushers, lined up in the slot, and just simply played football. This kid can become the type of Swiss Army knife that the Patriots haven't had since Kevin Faulk. Already in camp he's flashed his great hands and quick feet. Using him out of the backfield to create mismatches against linebackers will be fun to watch, and pairing him up with Vereen will be just downright unfair. I cannot wait to see him in action.

Then there is Stephen Houston. Very little has been said about Houston so far out of OTAs and camp, but that's because there hasn't been any real contact. Houston is a bigger back at 6'0" 225 lbs, and while he is no Blount (6'0" 250 lbs), he is bigger than any other Patriots back. Running backs coach Ivan Fears personally seems to like this kid.

"He's a big back. He's got a little bit of everything working for him," Fears said (Boston Herald). "He can do a little bit of everything and he looks good doing it. We're going to see if he can play with the tools he really has. When we put the pads on, we'll see if he stands out where he should stand out."

If he finds himself on the roster, his power could lend himself a niche as a short yardage and goal line back.

The little engine that could, Roy Finch, may be the quickest player on the Patriots. It seems like every day the 5'7" back is making a name for himself. He can return kicks, which is something only a select few (Boyce, White, Amendola, Edelman) have been entrusted to do. While he may not ever be used to run between the tackles, like White he can be used out of the backfield to catch passes or split out wide. His versatility stands much taller in the coaches' eyes than he does.

Last, but not least, is James Develin. The former surprise roster spot has become another cog in the Patriots versatile offense. Last year, he opened holes for LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley out of the backfield. This year, we may be seeing him somewhere else from time to time: the line of scrimmage. During OTAs, Develin had practiced with the tight ends for most of practice, even catching a few passes from Tom Brady. If his skill set can transition well to the tight end position, it will not only ease the burden on a shallow position, but will also open up his own ability to get on the field.

Imagine a backfield of James Develin, Shane Vereen, and James White. Develin could move to tight end or block a linebacker as a fullback. Vereen could go out for a wheel route to either side or run a stretch play to the outside. White could split out to became a slot receiver or stay in the backfield to block for Brady. How can you practice enough to prepare for so many possibilities? The Patriots do not need a superstar at running back. Their versatility will allow them to have opponents game planning long into the night, leaving them with nightmares of not knowing what they will do. And that is as good as any player in the league.

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AdamBogdan 7/27/2014 01:16:00 PM Edit

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