Runningback Position Analysis and Mini-Camp Notes
Perhaps the strongest position on the team is the Runningback room. The Patriots have two strong RBs in Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Neither has achieved elite status because of the way the Patriots deploy their backs. Seldom does either back get over 20 carries a game. The Patriots have deployed a running back by committee approach. Third down passing downs have been dedicated to a designated back that is a great receiver and pass blocker. The Patriots surprised everyone and drafted two running backs this year.
Damien Harris –Harris started his pro career slowly by actually getting a redshirt year his 1st year in the league in 2019. He didn’t play at all. In year 2 he ended up rushing for 691 yards, a 5.0 yards per carry (YPC), and 2 TDs. Last season was even better running for 961 yards and 15 TDs. His YPC dropped to 4.6, which is still really good. This is Harris’ contract year. Look for him to put up big numbers. However, the Patriots are unlikely to re-sign him. They drafted 2 RBs this year with the idea of having protection for Harris and White. The Patriots’ offense is still a run 1st offense (or at least we think it will be). With the new offensive play-caller (Joe Judge) new Offensive Line coaches (Matt Patricia and Billy Yates) and Runningback coach Ivan Fears status up in the air, that leaves 5th-year coach Vinnie Sunseri as the assistant Runningbacks coach. Harris got benched in Game 7 after a crucial fumble. Harris started and played in 15 games last season.
Henry McKenna reported that Harris has the most fun at practice than any player. He is the loudest and is cheering every play. He runs out every play, even sprinting downfield as if the block the safety (Phillips) on JJ Taylor’s long catch.
“I’ve been impressed by Rhamondre’s growth,” Belichick said in a video conference late last season. “He’s very coachable. When you ask him to do something, he tries hard to do it the way you want him to do it, and he’s improved greatly in every area of the game.
“He’s a player that’s gained a lot of trust and confidence from his teammates, certainly from the coaching staff, really in every area. The running game, the passing game, ball security, blitz pickup, run reads, run technique, and so forth, using the blockers and understanding the blocking schemes. He just gets better every day he goes out on the field.”
Stevenson is a big back at 5’ 11.5”, 227 lbs. He ran a 4.64 40 at his Pro Day. Breakaway speed is not Stevenson’s calling card. Breaking tackles is. His powerful, between the tackles running style, fits the Patriots perfectly. Most fans were pleasantly surprised by Stevenson’s production as a rookie. In 12 games played, Stevenson ran for 606 yards, 4.6 YPC, and 5 TDs. What kind of jump can he make in year two?
White is recovering from a horrific hip subluxation. Essentially the head of the humorous bone is shoved into the hip socket violently causing damage to the hip pocket. This is the injury that ruined Bo Jackson’s career. White has not practiced in the OTAs or Mini-Camp and I expect that he will start the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP). That will give the Patriots some roster relief while he gets healthy.
When healthy, White is the premier 3rd down back. He is an excellent blocker and receiver. This is evident by the 20 points that White scored in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons.
Projecting his stats over the course of a full season White would have had 68 catches for over 500 yards. White enters his 9th year in the league and turned 30 in February. “Sweet Feet” had 87 catches for the Pats in 2018. Don’t forget that White overcame the tragic death of his mother in an auto accident that ruined his 2020 season.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Pats taking strong. When making my final draft projection for the Patriots I had Strong as the #158 selection by the Patriots. This was before the pre-draft trade with Houston that sent pick 170 to Houston for picks 183 and 245. That changed the draft and I was unable to make trades the same way I had before the trade. That made it impossible for me to take Strong.
That didn’t mean that I was down on Strong, just the opposite. This is what I wrote about Strong after the combine. “Pierre Strong RB South Dakota St – get to know this name! Strong ran an impressive 4.37. He is rocked up 5’11”, 209 lbs, which put up great numbers against FBS 1600 yards and 18 TDs in 2021. Great vision and can catch out of the backfield.” He is the heir apparent to James White. If White can’t go and Strong can pick up the blitz assignments, he could see action earlier than expected. Strong has a good reputation as a willing blocker. I am excited to see what he can do. Strong is 23 years old.
My first impression … Harris’ quads are bigger than some NFL players’ torsos (Tyquan Thornton). I don’t know if anyone saw this selection coming. Harris led the SEC in rushing in 2020 with 1138 yards in 10 games. That’s right he led the SEC, not Najee Harris or Brian Robinson of Alabama or James Cook of Georgia. Harris suffered a back injury that required surgery. It was remarkable that Harris played at all in 2021. He played in pain all year. That is why his production dropped. Healthy he is a bull in a china shop. Harris stands 5’10’” 221 lbs and ran a 4.62 at his Pro Day. He is not a burner but a one cut and-go runner. He may get a red-shirt year this season because of the depth at the RB position.
Matt Miller of NFL Draft Scout wrote prior to the draft, “(My) Favorite Day 3 running back: Kevin Harris from South Carolina. Kind of an old-school, no-nonsense back. Violent inside runner. Never fumbles. One-cut, downhill dude.” Justin Frye of the IDP Guys ranked his top three sleepers RBs and had both Strong and Harris listed. Harris is just 21, a rarity in this draft. He came out after his junior season.
The forgotten man in the room. The third-year player didn’t do much last year and regressed from his rookie season. With all the competition, is there a place for Taylor? Since Taylor doesn’t play on special teams he will have a hard time making it unless there are injuries.
Evan Lazar wrote for CLNS Media that Taylor had a great catch in mini-camp as Mac Jones was throwing dimes. It was a long pass out of the backfield on a seam route.
Mini Camp Notes
The reports about Mac Jones have been tremendous. He completed 23 passes in a row as reported by Evan Lazar. He is in great physical shape and is also taking command of the team. He is definitely the leader. Don’t be surprised if Jones is calling his own plays by the end of the season.
Isaiah Wynn was switched over to Right Tackle. This was done despite Trent Brown being late to the start of practice. Yodny Cajuste was at Left Tackle until Brown showed up. Speaking of O-lineman, Cole Strange brought his Logan Mankins traits out at the end of practice, getting into a dustup with Matt Judon. He took exception to some of the physicality that Judon was playing with. Reports have the Patriots’ O-line playing more of a zone-blocking scheme.
Former Patriots wizard Ernie Adams was on the field for mini-camp. Ivan Fears was also coaching up the Runningbacks. Fears has not officially retired yet!
Dalton Keene has been running with the rookies. Not a good sign.
James Ferentz was used as the number 2 center when David Andrews took the last 30 minutes of practice off.
No Kendrick Bourne at practice. Belichick did say a few players had excused absences. Rookie draft picks Andrew Steuber and Chasen Hines were among those not at practice.
Marcus Jones practiced but wore the red no-contact jersey recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. He did not practice Punt Returns but is expected to be the Number 1 PR.
Jalen Mills and Terrance Mitchell were the starting Corners. Shaun Wade played the # 3 slot corner. Henry McKenna of SI Patriots Wire had Kyle Dugger and rookie Jack Jones as some of the more impressive players.
Evan Lazar was impressed with 2nd year WR Tre Nixon who caught several passes and in particular a nice post corner route. Mac Jones was impeccable on his long passes. Nixon got the opportunity because Bourne wasn’t there. Ty Montgomery was in the #1 slot and performed well. He had no work at the RB position.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Damien Harris J.J. Taylor James White Kevin Harris Pierre Strong Rhamondre Stevenson