Last season, everyone focused on the seemingly out-of-nowhere explosion of Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray as being part of the rookie’s otherworldly talent. It’s true, Murray is a very good running back, but it took a moment for people to realize that much of his success was because of the efforts of his primary blocking fullback, Tony Fiammetta.
Now that Fiammetta is a New England Patriot, can you expect Patriots running backs Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead to have a similar upticks in production, ones so significant that they’re worth a spot on your fantasy roster? Let’s take a look.
Last season, the Patriots had the 20th-ranked rush offense in terms of overall yards and ranked 17th in attempts. Only BenJarvus Green-Ellis had much success on the ground from a fantasy perspective, thanks to his 11 rushing touchdowns, but the team’s overall pass-first focus left much to be desired from the Patriots running backs as viable fantasy starters.
Now that the Patriots have poached restricted free agent fullback Tony Fiammetta from the Dallas Cowboys, it’s a solid indicator that the team is going to give increased attention to running the ball in 2012. With Green-Ellis now a Cincinnati Bengal, the young and fast trio of Patriots receivers will be seeing the majority of the team’s carries. It’s quite possible their performance could see the same spike Murray and Felix Jones did when running behind Fiammetta.
The Patriots didn’t use a traditional blocking fullback in 2011, so bringing Fiammetta on to do in 2012 what he did last year as a Cowboy will be quite a departure for them. They couldn’t have made a better choice in free agents, however. Last year behind Fiammetta (Weeks 7-10), DeMarco Murray had 601 total yards—an average of 150 per game. Without him (Weeks 11-13, leaving off Week 14 when Murray was injured early in the game), Murray had just 198 yards, for 66 yards per game.
Jones saw the same uptick in yardage without Fiammetta as his blocker. Jones and Fiammetta started in four games together, while Jones had an additional five games without Fiammetta’s services. When Fiammetta was blocking for him, Jones rushed for 354 yards—an average of 88.5 yards per game; when Fiammetta was sidelined, Jones had only 69 yards, averaging 34.5 per game.
Green-Ellis, last year’s starting Patriot running back, had 20 or more carries just twice and averaged between 10 and 20 per game (Woodhead had just one game with more than seven). In contrast, it wasn’t uncommon for Jones or Murray to have 20 or more carries on a weekly basis, so clearly the either of the two Cowboys would have better overall yardage than any one Patriots
running back. But the fact that there was such a huge difference between when Fiammetta was blocking and when he wasn’t seems to predict a much more successful Patriots running game simply because he’s there.
It also indicates a renewed focus on the run. A more balanced attack, combined with the Patriots’ well-known offensive acumen might mean they could field a dangerous running game this year. The caution with this, from a fantasy viewpoint, is that the Patriots look prime to go with a committee approach that could damage the fantasy value of all three backs.
However, if it appears that one particular rusher stands to take the feature role, then he’s worth your draft pick. If the effectiveness of Fiammetta translates from the Cowboys to the Patriots, then you could find yourself with one of the most studly running backs of 2012. Where Fiammetta goes, a 200% increase in yardage goes, so make your pre-draft preparations with that in mind.