Shane Vereen was a second round pick of the Patriots in 2011. He has the Super Bowl yet to play. Then the product of the University of California hits free agency.
Vereen's position is officially running back, but he isn't one in the conventional sense. I think of him as more of a receiving back. You can run him on some draws here and there, but his main value is in the passing game. In 2013 the Patriots passed on 81.4% of the snaps Vereen played. That number was 77.7% this year. Those are John B Ratios skewed heavily to the pass.
One of Vereen's assets in the passing game is his versatility. New England splits him out wide rather frequently. That is no small thing to mention. The New England passing game is fairly complicated for wide receivers. There are many option routes where the receiver has multiple possible places to run at the snap and must correctly read the defense to determine where to take his route. The degree to which the Patriots trust Vereen to go wide speaks to his effectiveness as a route runner. Vereen is particularly effective on short routes. He's good at setting up defenders in front of him and making sharp cuts. He also reads coverages effectively and sits down when a corner has given him too much cushion.
There are residual benefits to having a back who can split out wide.
In this instance, we can see T.J. Ward have to run out wide to cover Vereen. Why else would a safety be out wide? It tips off the quarterback there will be man to man coverage. The best part of this for New England is they didn't tip the play because then they can motion Vereen back to the backfield after the Broncos have tipped their defense.
A defense might also end up wasting a cornerback like Aqib Talib on a back while the wide receivers get lesser corners.
A shifty, athletic back like Vereen also creates matchup problems when he simply stays in the backfield since you can run plays to get him isolated on linebackers.
With 99 catches over the past two years, Vereen has become a valuable supporting player in the New England passing game. The question is whether they will keep him. The Patriots have shown a willingness in the past to let certain cogs depart for greener pastures.
I think he would be a worthwhile free agent target for the Jets. The backfield probably needs a bit of a makeover. Chris Johnson's productive days seem at an end. Bilal Powell never developed into anything more than a JAG. Chris Ivory is a good player, but he seems miscast as the go to guy. He seems better suited to be a change of pace pace back. Let him come in fresh and pound on a defense not used to his physical style. Then after keeping his carries down, let him finish the game in the fourth quarter against a tired defense.
I think this is a strong Draft class at running back so I would like to see the Jets find a back there. Ivory would become the supporting player. That would leave room for a third spot, which could be a specialist like Vereen producing value by creating mismatches in the passing game.
As far as contract dopplegangers go, Danny Woodhead seems appropriate. He was another New England pass catching back. Something around $2-3 million would be a nice little bargain.
I'd like to note that in this series I am not suggesting the Jets sign all of the players I mention. I am only picking out targets who might make sense. I would like to make a point about the guy I mentioned yesterday, Julius Thomas. There is much talk about Percy Harvin and his $10.5 million price tag. Let's imagine for a second the Jets could land both Vereen and Thomas for that amount AND get back their fourth round pick by cutting Harvin. That sounds better than Harvin to me. Will this be a possibility? I'm not sure, but I think there are likely to be other ways that money can be spent better on the free agent market once that fourth round pick gets factored in.