This will be a running team! The Patriots have a strong offensive line and a running back corps to match. This will show the strength of that running back group.
Damien Harris – In his second season, after a re-shirt rookie campaign where he was inactive for all but one game, is a rising star in the NFL. This should be his breakout season. He averaged 5 yards a carry last season in 10 games. If he remains healthy, he should eclipse the 1000 yard mark. The Patriots run a backfield by committee but Harris should get the most carries of this bunch. Harris is a good straight-line runner that sheds the 1st contact and is always finishing going forward. He had good speed but lacks that 2nd level burst.
Cam Newton – I must include Newton as part of the running game. Statistically, he robs the RBs of TDs, because close the goal line the ball isn’t coming out of his hand. I believe this trait is a detriment to the team and way too predictable for opposing defenses. In 2020 he carried 137 times for 592 yds and a 4.3 average. His 12 touchdowns tied the Patriots rushing record for a QB. However, he fumbled 6 times, none greater than the game-tying drive at the end of the Bills game. We will see how the competition goes in training camp, but I see Newton starting the season at QB for the Pats. Newton stared 15 games but was out with COVID and was never the same QB after that.
Sony Michel – The Patriots did not pick up the 5th year option on Michel. That should say volumes what the Patriots think of him. They drafted him knowing he had a knee issue, and it only got worse. In his rookie season, he ran for 931 yards and a 4.5 average, but missed 3 games. In 2019 he ran for 912 but his average dropped to 3.7 yards per carry. He played in all 16 games that year. This past season his knee flared up again and he missed 5 games but his yards per carry jumped to 5.7 yards per carry. That was impressive that both he and Harris averaged over 5 yards per carry. Michel lacks breakaway speed and is a sub-par receiver. The 2018 1st round selection #31 must be characterized as a bust. Michel is in battle for a roster position.
Rhamondre Stevenson – the 2020 4th round draft pick out of Oklahoma is a big back. a bruiser that runs in a straight line. He doesn’t avoid contact and is very hard to take down one-on-one. He won’t make any jump cuts but follows his blockers well and sets up his blocks. Surprisingly, he is a very good receiver out of the backfield. Usually, the Patriots will redshirt their running backs during their initial season. Let’s see if that happens. He will be one to watch during training camp.
James White – Surprisingly he resigned with the Patriots this off-season. He is coming off a down year. Considering his dealing with his mother’s death and father’s injuries from a car crash, it is understandable his sub-par season. I would add to this, the poor passing ability of Cam Newton. I expected a big season last year by White because of Newton’s dump-off passes to McCaffrey in Carolina. If Mac Jones is the QB, I would expect White to be back where he was. White is an adequate runner but excels as a third-down specialist. His pass blocking is underrated. He will be in a fight for a roster spot with JJ Taylor and Sony Michel. Greg Bedard of Boston Sports Journal does not have White making the team and has him being traded. Taylor provides special teams value as a KO specialist. So it’s down to Michel and White. Barring injury, I think the progress of Stevenson will determine which RB is kept.
JJ Taylor – The coaching staff loves Taylor. His receiving skills are terrific. As a runner, he is very shifty. He also returns kick-offs. The one question is his pass blocking. He is not very big at 5’6” 185. He ran for over 3,000 yards in his career at Arizona and also caught 62 passes. His 40 was only 4.61, slow for a player of short stature. His quickness is his thing with a 7.00 3-cone time. As stated previously he is in a fight for a roster spot. I would expect that he would be claimed if cut and wouldn’t make it to the Practice Squad.
Brandon Bolden – “Smash Hulk” is 31 years old and a stalwart on the #1 NFL Special Teams unit. He plays on all 4 Special Teams. He was sorely missed when Miami claimed him for one season. For Miami, he was more than a Special Teams player. He is not a long-term sub at RB but I would be confident he could do the job in a pinch. He is a favorite of BB. I expect he would be cut at the 53 man cut down. As a vested veteran, that would make him an Unrestricted Free Agent. He would have a gentleman’s agreement to be reinstated so they can protect a player that will go on IR.
Tyler Gaffney – He was a late addition to the roster. Gaffney has two Super Bowl rings without ever being active for any game. He looked good in pre-season but again was injured and spent the year on IR. At Stanford, the 6’ 220 RB was terrific. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield but is strictly an insurance policy. At Stanford, he was a two-sport star, and was drafted to play baseball. He quit football for baseball but gave that up this year. Gaffney will be eligible for the PS. I will watch him in the pre-season practices to see if he has anything left.
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