Shane Vereen’s recent performances have backed up the Patriots’ hopes for the running back when they selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Vereen’s got the potential to be one of the upper-echelon receiving backs in the NFL. In four games this season, Vereen has caught 28-of-38 passes thrown his way for 220 yards and one touchdown, and his average of seven receptions per game leads all running backs, albeit in a limited body of work.

If Vereen can overcome the injury bug and stay on the field, it seems he could be as effective as the Saints’ Darren Sproles or the Chargers’ Danny Woodhead, who don’t lead their respective teams in rushing but do so in receptions and healthy snaps.

Since Vereen returned from a broken wrist three weeks ago, he leads Pats backs with 121 snaps and is tied for the team lead with 21 receptions to go with 162 yards and a score. He also has 76 rushing yards, which is second to LeGarrette Blount’s 106.

“You just go into the game knowing to be ready when your number is called,” Vereen said. “You never go into a game feeling like I have to catch 10 or zero passes. I never really know. I just play, and when the ball comes to me, I just try to hold onto it.”

Vereen’s splits are important, too. Tom Brady is 9-of-11 for 76 yards when targeting the Cal product on third down, and the two have connected on their last four third-down bids for 32 yards. Vereen has also caught 11-of-13 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown on first down and 8-of-14 for 45 yards on second down.

And Vereen can do it in different ways, which makes him more difficult to defend. He has caught 7-of-8 passes for 54 yards while lined up left of Brady in the shotgun and 9-of-13 for 70 yards and a score while lined up to Brady’s right. Vereen has hauled in 3-of-4 passes for 24 yards out of the backfield, and has caught 5-of-8 passes for 51 yards while lined up wide left, 3-of-4 for 19 yards from wide right and 1-of-1 for 2 yards from the left slot.

Vereen’s opportunities have increased this season without Woodhead, and the added playing time helped him break out, too. Remarkably, Vereen only had eight catches coming into 2013.