Jets Sign Stevan Ridley
With most of the other prominent free agent running backs having already landed with their new teams, former Patriots back Stevan Ridley followed suit on Wednesday by signing a one-year contract with the New York Jets.
Ridley has been a productive player in much of his career, but an ACL and MCL tear that ended his 2014 season in October undoubtedly limited his options. The one-year deal makes sense for both parties, as the Jets add little risk in the event that Ridley does not return to form and Ridley has the opportunity to prove he can return to his previous levels of production and cash in as a free agent in 2016.
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In 2014, the Jets were one of only four teams that gave 150 or more carries to two backs, and Houston with Foster (260) and Blue (168) and Cincinnati with Hill (222) and Bernard (168) were the only others who did so by design—injuries forced the Giants to rely more heavily on Andre Williams (216). Chris Ivory led the Jets backfield with 198 carries last season, and he will likely be expected to do the same in 2015. Ridley will replace departed Chris Johnson and his 155 carries.
It’s a bit odd to draw comparisons between Ridley and Johnson because of the differences in their tools, but they were similarly effective backs in 2014. Last year, Ridley outpaced Johnson 0.32 standard points per opportunity to 0.29 while Johnson outpaced Ridley 0.37 PPR points per opportunity to 0.35. And for the season, Johnson was No. 34 back in standard scoring. However, in his healthier 2012 and 2013 seasons, Ridley was a much more productive, if specialized, back. In that period, he averaged a solid 4.4 yards per carry and rushed for 19 touchdowns.
Given that Ridley is likely capped at 200 carries and has never exceeded 10 catches in a season, his fantasy value will be made or broken on touchdowns. As such, he probably could have landed in a more favorable situation. For one, the Jets consistently relied on Ivory near the goal line in 2015. His 14 carries within five yards of the end zone tied him for fifth most in football, and his six touchdowns closely mirrored his 6.8 expected touchdowns based on OTD. Second, the Jets have a lot of size at receiver and tight end with 6’3 Eric Decker, 6’5 Jace Amaro, and newly acquired 6’4 Brandon Marshall. Finally, the addition of Marshall and change of head coach from Rex Ryan to Todd Bowles could push the Jets’ offense more toward the pass.
The real upside for Ridley is in the spotty health history of Ivory, who has never reached 200 carries in a season and has dealt with various hamstring, foot, and ankle injuries in his career. Should Ivory miss any time, Ridley would have a chance to assert himself, and I think that opportunity represents a clear reason for optimism, especially for his dynasty value.
After all, Ridley is still just 26 years old with only 649 career carries. He cannot catch passes, but he has been an efficient rusher in his career. And the major criticism of Ridley with the Patriots, his tendency to fumble the ball, is overblown. Among backs with at least 350 carries since 2011, Ridley had just the 11th highest fumble rate of 38 qualifiers. He was only slightly worse than Marshawn Lynch and Alfred Morris and was better than current Patriots back LeGarrette Blount.
|Lowest Att/Fumble, 2011-2014
Minimum 350 Att
Now is probably a smart time to try to buy Ridley in deeper dynasty formats on the chance that a productive part-time role in 2015 could create a more prominent job in 2016 and beyond. However, for Ridley to become a valuable player in 2015 in leagues that start fewer than 40 running backs, he will likely need Ivory to miss time ahead of him. In typical formats, that makes him a handcuff, albeit one that you could use as a bye-week or injury fill-in in a pinch.
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Scott Spratt is a Sloan Analytics Conference Research Paper Competition and Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. He also writes for RotoGraphs and contributes to ESPN Insider as a research analyst for Baseball Info Solutions. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @PFF_ScottSpratt