The Patriots under Bill Belichick have been an extremely adaptable franchise. The "next man up" motto always seems to work for them as they just put guys on the field, and they produce. They went 12-4 with Reche Caldwell and Ben Watson as their top receivers in 2006. They went 11-5 without Tom Brady in 2008. They went 14-2 in 2010 with Wes Welker as their only player to catch at least 50 passes.
Now, the Patriots are forced to change on the fly again. Two of their most dangerous receiving weapons from recent seasons, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, are out of action for the foreseeable future. The circumstances differ drastically as Gronkowski might miss only one game as he recovers from numerous surgeries; Hernandez might end up missing the rest of his free life in a 7-by-10 cell.
But for now, they are out of the Patriots' plans, so Belichick and company have to find ways to get more production out of other players. Although the Patriots have five tight ends on their current roster, the slack might not be most picked up by another tight end. ESPN's Field Yates, a former scouting intern with the Patriots, says running back Shane Vereen is "worth closely monitoring" in this situation.
"Like Hernandez, [Vereen] has the ability be used in various alignments around the formation, opening the door to the Patriots using him as a pre-snap motion player," Yates wrote Tuesday. "... A versatile player in that mold stresses a defense by forcing it into pre-snap adjustments. The Texans used James Casey in this way, as did the Vikings with Percy Harvin (and the Packers do with Randall Cobb), among a handful of other players with such a skill set."
But let's not begin thinking that Vereen is going to have the fantasy value of a Harvin or Cobb. He is a fine player who will see more touches this year, especially as a receiver as he takes over for Danny Woodhead. He should catch 40-50 passes, and I think he can be a flex-worthy player, even standard leagues. But I don't think the Patriots will suddenly make him a focal point in their offense. They will continue to spread the ball around.
Danny Amendola will get his catches and probably lead the team in that category. Julian Edelman will get his. Aaron Dobson will get his. Jake Ballard will get his. Vereen will get his. And when he's ready to come back, Gronkowski will get his.
All I'm really saying is while what you read above sounds great, you shouldn't go into your fantasy draft now thinking that Vereen is going to be some type of super sleeper. He's worth a pick in the middle rounds.