This is the sixth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Patriots heading into free agency. Today's position: Running backs. Who's on the roster? Eric Kettani, Lousaka Polite, Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead. Patriots need level? 4 Position overview? The Patriots lead back the past two seasons, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, is a free agent. He wasn't outstanding in 2011 (often went down on first contact), but he's very sure-handed and dependable. Stevan Ridley's rookie season was promising. He's got more speed through the hole than Green-Ellis and is more elusive at the second level. Fumbling in consecutive games down the stretch was troubling, but that's something coaching and hard work can eliminate. Lousaka Polite and Eric Kettani are fullback types. Shane Vereen had an injury-plagued rookie year. Danny Woodhead is valuable and - when he's on - dangerous. Who's out there? Michael Bush, Raiders. A big, 6-2, 243-pounder whowill be 28 this summer. Has been the backup to Darren McFadden. A decent receiver who has one fumble in his last 414 carries. Mike Tolbert, Chargers. An absolute load at 5-9, 243, he can be elusive and - obviously - a pounder between the tackles. With teams going to more nickel and dime defenses, he's an able pass-catcher (54 catches last year) who can run over DBs if teams are preoccupied with trying to stop a passing attack. Cedric Benson, Bengals. Has fumbled 12 times in the past two seasons. He's on the downside and may be an option for depth but probably not much more even though he's been over 1,000 yards each of the past three seasons. Ryan Grant, Packers. Turns 30 this year and has lost a step but once was an explosive runner (over 1,200 yards in 2008 and 2009). BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots. He's done quite a nice job for the Patriots but he can't expect to get a cash windfall here as a free agent. Peyton Hillis, Browns. He's only 26, but after an outstanding 2010 he got goofy and problematic in Cleveland in 2011. If he sits on the shelf a while, the Patriots may have a look. Other names of note? Kevin Faulk, Ronnie Brown, Mewelde Moore, Tim Hightower. Free agent forecast? If Green-Ellis signs elsewhere, look for the Patriots to hire a veteran a la Fred Taylor as security in case Ridley and Vereen prove unreliable.
The Patriots defensive front had a good night against the Panthers, with Dominique Easley and Jerod Mayo standing out.