Will the Patriots target a running back in the draft?

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With the 2015 NFL draft on the horizon it is time to check in on Mike Mayock's perspective on the draft prospects. Mike Reiss listened in on Mayock's marathon conference call and Reiss's take on the running back class from the view of the Patriots is very interesting:

The deepest position in the draft looks like running back. With two of the Patriots' top backs scheduled for free agency, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, that could be a case of good timing for New England. Mayock said, "I think we're deep enough in this draft to get [a productive running back] in the third or fourth round." Miami's Duke Johnson and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah are more Vereen-type prospects from a standpoint of playing in space and catching the ball.

So who are these prospects that Reiss pointed out were Vereen-type backs?

Ameer Abdullah: A speedy guy out of the back field Abdullah also has great hands to catch the ball out of the backfield. Much like Vereen (and Woodhead before him) he is a bit smaller which limits his ability to block big linebackers blitzing through the gaps. The experts at CBS Sports say of Abdullah:

Quick-thinking runner with natural ballcarrier instincts and an excellent sense of his surroundings to force poor angles with his multiple gears. Reliable hands out of the backfield and gives up his body in pass protection, despite limitations in that area.

Abdullah is a first-class person off the field as well with a well-respected, grounded personality and works his tail off in the weight room.

Duke Johnson: Like Abdullah, Johnson is a bit small for pass protection. He makes up for lack of size with good hands and amazing acceleration. According to the analysis of CBS Sports:

Alternately displays burst, agility and light feet to high-step through tackles and an effective stiff-arm. Patient runner willing to stretch plays and then hit the hole hard. Shows the "greasy knees" to cut and accelerate in one fluid motion, eluding would-be tacklers. Despite small stature, fights hard for every yard and shows a highly competitive nature.

TJ Yeldon: Though not mentioned by Mayock or Reiss, Yeldon projects as a second to third round selection from the University of Alabama. The question is whether he will explode like Mark Ingram or fizzle like Trent Richardson. Yeldon is bigger than Johnson and Abdullah at 6 foot 2 inches which could allow him to be a capable pass blocker. His weaknesses according to CBS Sports are:

Runs high, exposing the ball to contact and remains a work in progress as a pass blocker. Between the tackles, Yeldon isn't as decisive and tends to be too patient when the hole isn't there.

Personally, I think running back is a position the Patriots won't touch in this draft. First, I doubt they will allow Vereen to walk. Maybe if the Patriots are forced to pay Revis a ton of money they might be forced to let Verren go but it doesn't seem like many other teams would pay much for a pass catching back. Which leaves Ridley to leave, but that is expected with his up and down performance.

The Patriots are also deep at the running back position with Blount, Gray, Bolden, White and Gaffney. That's right, if you recall the Patriots already drafted a running back last year, James White out of Wisconsin, with their fourth round pick. They also claimed Gaffney after Carolina put him on waivers last year in pre-season.

Hopefully the Patriots will focus on other areas of need like offensive lineman and wide receiver than draft for a position they already have good enough depth.

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