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The Stevan Ridley Enigma

My fantasy football teams have a long standing relationship with Stevan Ridley. Why do I keep going back to the well year after year on a player who is seemingly always in his coaches doghouse, has a reputation for fumbling and can be a roster stud or a roster dud on a weekly basis? This is the Stevan Ridley Enigma.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

My wife and I have a favorite saying from the movie Beverly Hills Cop:  "I am not going to fall for the banana in the tail pipe."  It means simply "Fool me once, shame on you...fool me twice..." you get the rest.  Why then do I consistently end up with Stevan Ridley on my fantasy football teams?  Shouldn't I know better than to avoid this constant battle with my roster?  During yesterday's SB Nation analyst mock draft, I had the fortune (or misfortune) of having Ridley land in my lap - AGAIN - in the 7th round with the 75th pick overall.  The 75th pick in which I drafted Stevan Ridley as the 28th RB taken. Why is he the 28th RB taken in this draft?  Why do fantasy football owners shy away from him? And ... why do I keep going back to the well (falling for the banana in the tail pipe) year after year?  This is the Stevan Ridley Enigma:

First of all, Stevan Ridley is good.  Last year, 2013, he led his team in rushing even though he was inactive for two games.  In 2012 he also led the Patriots in rushing with a 290/1263/12 line.  This was good for seventh in the NFL.  His 12 TDs rushing were tied for third most in the league with Adrian Peterson.  Only Arian Foster and Alfred Morris had more rushing TDs than Ridley in 2012.

Secondly, he is on a team that runs the football.  In 2013 the Patriots ran 1098 plays.  That was second in the NFL to the Denver Broncos.  Although they passed the ball 57% of the time, the sheer volume of plays meant that they rushed the ball 470 times.  That is 9th most in the NFL.  In 2012 the Pats ran the most plays in the league at 1164.  Their 523 rushes were second only to Seattle.  With an aging QB and a subpar WR corps, I believe the Patriots will continue to pound the ball on the ground.  If they rush 496 times (the average of the last two years) don't you think that Ridley will get at least 250 of them?  The only guys standing in his way are Shane Vereen (more of a factor in the passing game and not proven to take the pounding of being a feature back) and Brandon Bolden.  The Patriots had 19 rushing TDs last year.  That was tied for second in the NFL.  The Patriots like to run the ball.

The Patriots also like to score, score often and bury other teams.  They scored 27.9 points per game last year which was 2nd in the NFL.  Their scoring margin was ranked 6th in the NFL in 2013 and their 2012 ranks were even better.  In 2012 they scored 34.8 points per game - first in the league and their scoring margin was a whopping +12.4 points per game.  When teams have big leads what do they do?  They run out the clock and Ridley is the best back on the Patriots for that role.

So why is Stevan Ridley shunned by fantasy football owners?  First - he fumbles.  At least that is the rap on him.  But further examination of this reputation shows that the bark is worse than the bite.  Stevan Ridley fumbled four times (three rushing, one receiving) last year.  LeGarrette Blount - also of the New England Patriots - and the recipient of carries during the Ridley benchings - also had three rushing fumbles.  If you look back over his career Stevan Ridley is NOT a fumbler.  His three rushing fumbles in 179 carries last year averaged out to one fumble every 59.6 carries.  This is a better ratio than Reggie Bush (1/44.6), Alfred Morris (1/55.2) and C.J. Spiller (1/50.5).  In 2012 his ratio was one fumble for every 72.5 carries.  In college, at LSU, he fumbled only once every 108 touches.  Stevan Ridley is NOT a fumbler.

But - what if he were a fumbler.  Fumbles are correctable.  All one needs to do is look at Adrian Peterson who fumbled once every 49.9 touches in his first three seasons according to Erik Frenz at Bleacher Report.  Last year AP fumbled once every 93 attempts.  Tiki Barber is the best known case of fumble improvement.  In Tiki's first eight seasons (1997-2004) he fumbled once every 54.75 touches.  That is worse than Ridley's 2013 season.  In his final two seasons, after working with Tom Coughlin on securing the ball better, he fumbled once every 171 touches!  Fumbles can be corrected and Ridley knows that he needs to protect the ball to get the ball.

So here is the enigma.  Here is the real reason why fantasy owners shy away from Stevan Ridley.  His coach is a MAD MAN!  Bill Belichick coaches week to week like he is playing Survivor.  Outwit, outplay, outlast!  Every week is a different game plan featuring a different player or players that he thinks will best take advantage of his opponents weakness.  It is difficult to argue with his success, but this inconsistency has made him the scourge of fantasy football owners everywhere.  To this I say - Isn't that why we play fantasy football in the first place?  Don't we all want to be Bill Belichicks?  Don't we all thrive in the rush of the competition?  The chance to outwit, outplay and outlast our head to head matchup every week.

The thrill of victory is only marginally greater than the agony of defeat.  How many water cooler conversations start out with ... "If I had only started Ridley this week..." or "Gosh darn it I can't believe I started Ridley this week."  So I will go on and try to figure out this enigma week by week.  There will be some weeks he sits on my bench and goes off for 100+ yards and 2 TDs and there will be some weeks he starts, fumbles twice and is benched before the first quarter ends.  But I will get the rush of winning from his success or overcoming his failures with the other players on my team.  I love fantasy football.  I love the week to week strategy.  There will always be a place on my team for Stevan Ridley.  Probably because I am the only owner in my league who falls for the banana in the tail pipe year after year.