Tag Archives: Patriots running backs

Patriots 2019 Training Camp Guide – Running Backs

Steve Balestrieri
July 15, 2019 at 6:30 am ET

The Patriots have one of the deepest and varied sets of running backs in the NFL. It became a position of strength down the stretch and the team rode it to a Super Bowl title. 

The Patriots had the league’s fifth-best running attack in 2018 and averaged 4.3 yards per rushing attempt. However, early in the year, injuries to Jeremy Hill, Sony Michel, and Rex Burkhead thinned out their depth considerably. That forced the team to use Cordarrelle Patterson as a running back for a time. 

While Hill ended up on IR, Michel and Burkhead returned and the running game got better as the year progressed. Michel, in particular, was immense in the postseason rushing for 336 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per rushing attempt with six touchdowns in three postseason games. 

With Michel, James White, and Burkhead all returning, the team drafted the versatile Damien Harris from Alabama and brought back former Patriot special teams’ ace Brandon Bolden after a year’s hiatus in Miami. Outstanding fullback James Develin also returns.  

So, let’s take a brief snapshot of the position and see who stays, who goes and who is on the bubble as the team begins training camp in 2019.

Check back with PatsFans.com as we’ll go thru the entire roster as our primers for training camp continue before the heavy lifting starts on July 25.

Current roster – Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris, Nick Brossette, Fullbacks James Develin, Jakob Johnson*

Locks – Michel, White, Harris, Develin

Near Lock – Burkhead, Bolden

Long Shot – Brossette, Johnson* 

Discussion – When it comes to the running back position, the Patriots are in great shape entering training camp before the 2019 season. There are, however, some question marks. Michel has had knee woes dating back to college, he missed some time last season and missed the mandatory minicamp in June after having another procedure.  Burkhead has also had injury concerns in his career. 

Having both a full-go for training camp will go a long way to alleviate those concerns. Adding Harris is a huge step in that direction. Harris is an excellent between the tackles runner, he is quick to the hole and runs with his pad level low. He’s outstanding after contact and is used to working in a running back by committee approach at Alabama. He’s very good in pass protection and underrated as a pass-catcher with soft hands.

With Michel, Burkhead, and Harris the Patriots have three running backs who can all run the ball well between the tackles where they like to run. Burkhead is also a good receiver out of the backfield, something they are hoping to see more of from Michel this year as well as Harris, who got a lot of reps in minicamp. 

James White is outstanding in his third-down receiving back role and can handle a few carries of his own during any given game. This gives the team outstanding versatility and unpredictability. They can go with a two-back set (21 Personnel) and then split the backs out wide if the defense stacks the box, forcing linebackers into coverage.

Michel, White, Develin, and Harris due to his draft status are absolute locks. Burkhead and Bolden are as close to locks as one can get. Bolden is a super-sub who can contribute offensively when his number is called but is most valuable on special teams where he was missed last year. By the way, the Patriots never emptied his locker.

It is going to be difficult for Brossette, the rookie from LSU to crack the 53-man roster unless there are some injuries there. Brossette is a typical LSU running back. Compact, with a solid build, runs low to the ground with power. He’s not overly athletic and with such a crowded backfield He’s a candidate for the practice squad. 

Jakob Johnson is a former University of Tennessee tight end and German football league player who is part of the International Player Pathway Program which was instituted in 2017 and whose goal is to provide international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level, and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster. 

If Johnson doesn’t make the Patriots 53-man roster out of training camp, (doubtful), he will automatically be placed on the practice squad. And as an international player, that will automatically give the Patriots an exception, an 11th player allowed on the practice squad. However, that will render him ineligible for an active roster spot in 2019. 

The Patriots are in terrific shape at the running back position with training camp…just 10 days away as we go to publication here. They will lean heavily on their running game and running backs for production in the passing game as well. 

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Sony Michel’s Knee Scope Kept Him Out of Minicamp

Steve Balestrieri
June 13, 2019 at 5:53 am ET

Last week, one of the most well-known Patriots players among the missing at the mandatory mini-camp was running back Sony Michel. No one knew why the second-year back from Georgia was missing until Wednesday. Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, “now we know, … the rest of the story.”

Jeff Howe of the Athletic was the first to report that Michel, who has had knee problems dating back to high school had his knee scoped earlier this offseason. The knee procedure is considered to be minor and Michel is reportedly on track for being ready for training camp at the end of July.

Michel had a very solid rookie season for the Patriots. Despite missing three games, he led the team with 209 carries for 931 yards and six touchdowns. In the playoffs, Michel was immense, carrying the ball 71 times for 336 yards and a rookie record six post-season touchdowns, including the only one in the Patriots Super Bowl win over the Rams.

So, despite the procedure being considered minor, it is still disconcerting in the fact that Michel needed to have another procedure on his knees. He missed time last year in training camp and wasn’t ready for the season opener. While missing three days of minicamp isn’t a show stopper, it was hoped that Michel would carve out a bigger role in the passing game this year. Getting those reps in minicamp is a great way to lay the foundation for that.

The Patriots under Bill Belichick have always been cautious in the offseason when it comes to players returning from injury or surgery, opting to keep them off the field. Which could be partly the reason why Michel wasn’t spotted at any of the final four practices open to the media.

Perhaps now it is becoming clearer why the Patriots drafted Damien Harris from Alabama in the third round of the draft this season. Harris is a player who excels at running between the tackles and making yards after contact. He can take some of the onus off of Michel in the running game.

Running back is one of the deepest positions on the team, Michel would be considered the primary ball carrier while James White is the top pass catcher. But with Rex Burkhead who can do a bit of both well and veteran Brandon Bolden who returned this spring as well as the rookie Harris, the team is well stocked and should have plenty of depth for another run to the postseason.

With Michel missing in minicamp, Bolden and Harris got the lion’s share of the carries in the running game drills. Michel’s status and his workload once training camp opens will definitely be one of the more closely watched developments this summer. His long-term viability is definitely a concern, as it was reported last summer that he may have a “bone-on-bone” condition in his knee.

He is a very talented running back whose potential was shown last year in the postseason, but he may not have a very long career. However, with the running back rotational system that the Patriots employ, it would definitely add some mileage to that.

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James White is the Patriots “X-Factor” in the Super Bowl

Steve Balestrieri
January 26, 2019 at 7:00 am ET

J

The Patriots are leaving on Sunday to take part in their third Super Bowl in a row and their fourth in the past five seasons. While much of the talk and deservedly so centers around the relationship of Head Coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady who are competing in their ninth Super Bowl together, one other player will be critical to the Patriots success next Sunday. Running back James White.

It is a given that if you took a poll of the best running backs in the NFL, White wouldn’t sniff the top 15 or possibly even further. But in this Patriots offense, White’s role is such that he can be the mismatch that the coaches are looking for to ignite the rest of the offense. White doesn’t carry the ball much in the running game. They have rookie Sony Michel and veteran Rex Burkhead to handle the majority of those duties.

No, White’s value in mostly in the passing game where he is simply outstanding. That’s why he’s our “X-Factor” in the Patriots offense next week in Atlanta. The Rams have struggled to cover running backs out of the backfield and tight ends all season. And the Patriots will be looking to continue that trend next week.

And in 2018  White has been terrific. He’s averaging 6.5 yards per every touch he gets either in the passing or running game. That is 2nd best in the entire NFL. He averages about 47 yards per game receiving, which was 3rd best.

White is a movable chess piece. Often Tom Brady will put him in motion to find not only a mismatch against a linebacker but will often get the defense to declare what coverage they are in. And when the lights are the brightest, that’s when White shines the most. In the Super Bowl two years ago against the Falcons, he was immense. He carried the ball six times for 29 yards, (4.8 yards per rush) and two touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime. In the passing game, White was even better catching 14 passes for 110 yards and another touchdown.

In White’s career he’s played in 10 postseason games, he has 33 carries for 128 yards but with five touchdowns. And he’s caught 53 passes for 439 yards and three more scores. A total of eight touchdowns in 10 games.

This year, it has been more of the same. In the Patriots two playoff victories over the Chargers and Chiefs, White has caught 19 passes for 146 yards. Against the Chiefs, we looked at the box score after the game and were frankly amazed that his numbers didn’t jump off the charts. Six carries for 23 yards and four catches for 49 more.

Why? Because the first six times that White touched the ball, the Patriots got a first down. This all took place in the first half, from Zach Cox at NESN, here are his touches in the first half:

5-yard run on third-and-4

2-yard run on third-and-1

4-yard run on third-and-4

9-yard catch on third-and-7

5-yard catch on third-and-4

30-yard catch

While watching the NFC Championship Game, RB Alvin Kamara was a matchup nightmare for the Rams defense gaining 96 yards on 11 catches. No doubt Brady and Josh McDaniels watched that tape too.

The Patriots have a deep and diverse backfield of Sony Michel,  Rex Burkhead and White. Michel is the workhorse in the running game while White is the go-to player in the passing game. But Burkhead can do a little bit of both quite well and it just makes the defense’s job that much harder.

White was raised by a talented athlete in his father who became a law enforcement officer as well as his coach. And the elder White taught his sons about committment, teamwork and hard work. He was thrilled when James was drafted by the Patriots and Bill Belichick in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

“He’s a great kid,” said Belichick. “He’s smart, he works hard, very tough, dependable, his ball security, his decision-making, situational football — I mean, he is one of those guys that almost always does the right thing. Sometimes things come up that aren’t exactly the way they were practiced or doesn’t exactly follow the rule that you’ve outlined, but he has to make a decision quickly, whatever the circumstances or situation is, and he almost always makes the right one. Some of that’s just instinctive and good judgment on his part that’s, I’d say, beyond coaching.”

The Patriots will be looking for Super Bowl win #6 against the Rams next week and White will be a big part of the offensive game plan. It will be interesting to see how the Rams decide to cover him. In the current postseason, White leads the all NFL backs with 2.81-yard average for every route run.

White isn’t quotable, he’s humble, down-to-earth and takes nothing for granted. He’s always prepared and has the utmost confidence from Brady in the offense.

He has “Only the Strong Survive” tattooed on his chest, and that is fitting. Because when the chips are on the line in the Super Bowl, Brady and the Patriots won’t hesitate to call White’s number.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

Patriots-Dolphins Week 14, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

The New England Patriots head out for the first of their final two road games of the 2018 regular season. They play in Miami this week and Pittsburgh next week in games that will go a long way in determining where they stand in terms of AFC Playoff seeding.

The Patriots can clinch their 10th straight AFC East title with a win or a tie and would set a record for making the playoffs in10 straight years. They are currently tied with the Dallas Cowboys (1975-83) and the Indianapolis Colts (2002- 10) as the only teams to play in the postseason for nine straight seasons.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Ian Eagle will handle play-by-play duties with Dan Fouts as the color analyst. Evan Washburn will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (9-3) beat the Minnesota Vikings 24-10 in Foxboro as the defense was outstanding limiting the Vikings offense to just 278 yards while rolling up 471 of their own.

The Dolphins (6-6) beat the Buffalo Bills 21-17 as Ryan Tannehill threw for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter come-from-behind win.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The Patriots and the Dolphins are meeting for the 107th time in their history. Miami holds the overall edge 54-52 with each team holding big advantages at home. Against the Dolphins in Miami, the Patriots are 4-15 in the month of December.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Dolphins Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots running game is nearly back to full strength with Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead as the three main backs in the backfield. But Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson both will see some carries on Jet Sweeps. James Develin, their big blocking fullback is now a short-yardage option. He scored a pair of touchdowns last week against Minnesota.

The Dolphins run defense was first gashed by the Patriots to the tune of 175 yards this season after Miami began 3-0. Since then they allowed 164 to the Bears, 248 vs the Lions, 188 to Houston, 195 to Green Bay, and 198 to the Bills. Miami is allowing an average of 144.7 yards per game and 5.0 yards per rush, which is 30th in the league.

Look for the Patriots to try to pound the rock all day between the tackles. Miami’s defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Akeem Spence have not played well against the run and neither have linebackers, Raekwon McMillan and Kiko Alonso. If DC Matt Burke tries to bring the safeties up into the box in run support or blitz the linebackers, it will open up play-action passing.

Patriots WRs vs Dolphins Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game has been playing their cards close to their vest lately as their being fairly conservative in the passing game. But in Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan at wide receiver, Rob Gronkowski at tight end and James White, Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel out of the backfield, Tom Brady has a plethora of weapons. Add it Patterson and Phillip Dorsett and the depth is there for them to mix it up.

Miami may be without their best defensive player in Xavien Howard who has a knee injury. He’s an All-Pro talent who leads the team with seven interceptions this year. With him injured they’ve been forced to play Minkah Fitzpatrick at the other corner with Bobby McCain in the slot. If Howard can’t go, 2nd-year corner Torry McTyer will get the start. Miami has two very talented edge rushers in Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake but they’ll need to get pressure up the middle if they want to be successful there.

Look for Brady to utilize the “Pony” backfield with White and Burkhead on third down a lot in this one, they’ll try to isolate the linebackers in coverage and keep the sticks moving. If Howard is indeed out, look for Brady and Gordon to test McTyer. Chris Hogan could be an “X-Factor” this week.  

Next up the Miami offense:

Miami RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

The Dolphins running game is averaging 102.7 yards per game (24th) this season with a 4.3 average yards per carry. They have two very good backs in the ageless Frank Gore who leads the team with 616 yards and the dangerous Kenyan Drake. Their problem has been the offensive line hasn’t been on the field enough because of injuries.

The Patriots rush defense is currently 13th allowing 106.7 yards per game. They’ve been trending up in that regard and this week, they’ll have their hands full as the Dolphins will try to mix things up by using both Gore and Drake. They’ll have to get a big game out of their linebackers, especially Kyle Van Noy who Adam Gase was talking about this week.

Look for the Patriots to go to a bigger front this week with Gore in the lineup and try to get Miami into the 3rd and long passing situations. They’ll have to set the edge this week as the Dolphins should be much more patient with their running game than the Vikings were.

Dolphins WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge New England

The Miami passing game is 28th in the league averaging just 199.4 yards per game. But getting Ryan Tannehill back from injury has helped and in the last two games, he’s had a passer rating of over 100 against the Colts and Bills defenses. He has DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, and Danny Amendola as wide receivers with Nick O’Leary and Mike Gesicki at tight end with Drake out of the backfield. The team was much more explosive before Jakim Grant and Albert Wilson went on IR.

The Patriots defense had their best game of the year last week against the Vikings. The secondary stuck like glue to the receivers and they had constant pressure on QB Kirk Cousins. Can they do that again in South Florida?

I would expect they will try to match Stephon Gilmore on Stills which should be a great matchup to watch. And I’d expect either Jason McCourty or J.C. Jackson on Parker with either McCourty or Jonathan Jones on Amendola in the slot. The key is getting pressure on Tannehill and look for the Patriots to attack the middle/right side where the Dolphins OL is banged up and RG Jesse Davis has not played well.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge Miami

Both teams have gotten solid play in the kicking game from punter Matt Haack and kicker Jason Sanders for Miami and Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski for New England. But Sanders gives the Dolphins the edge in the kicking game, especially at home. While Patterson in the return game is always a threat to return a big one. But although Miami misses Grant in the return game, the Pats coverage units have been uncharacteristically very inconsistent.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one is a playoff game for both teams. Unlike 2013 and 2015 when the Patriots came limping into Miami beat up, this year it is the Dolphins who are all banged up with injuries while the Patriots are as healthy as one can expect at this time of year.

Last year the Pats got caught looking ahead to Pittsburgh and got their butts handed to them. But last year they afford that loss and keep the #1 seed as long as they beat Pittsburgh the next week. This year they don’t have that luxury and they know Miami still has a shot for a playoff berth.

Three keys from a Pats perspective:

Run the Ball Between the Tackles:
Miami isn’t good against the run and they’re ranked 30th for a reason. Spread the wealth between the three RBs and keep their defense on their heels. Plus it will open up play action and slow down their edge rushers.

Win the Turnover Battle:
Miami isn’t an offense that scores a lot of points, they can’t afford to get into a shootout situation. Their 29th in offense and 29th in defense. They are still in the hunt because they force a lot of turnovers. Make them go the length of the field with no easy scoring drives is a win-win situation.

Get After Tannehill:
Dolphins QBs have been sacked 31 times this year, the offensive line is suspect. Especially in the center and on the right. The Patriots don’t have a lot of sacks this year but they are among the top teams at creating pressure. They need to do that and force Tannehill into making mistakes. When they’ve lost to Miami down there, he was standing flat-footed in the pocket for much of those games.

Look for the Pats to play much better this time around. Belichick will harp on the way they looked past them last December and they should be ready to play. Look for Michel, Burkhead, and White to all have big games for the Patriots as the defense clamps down this time in South Beach. The East goes thru New England again.   Patriots 27-13

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

If Sony Michel Is Out For An Extended Period, Devontae Booker Fits

Steve Balestrieri
October 23, 2018 at 4:14 pm ET

According to several sources, first reported by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, it appears Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel may have dodged a bullet and his injury may not be as serious as first thought. Michel went down awkwardly and his leg twisted under him. At first glance, it appeared to be a very serious, perhaps season-ending injury. But now Michel may be only out for a short while.

Regardless, Michel will be out at least this week and quite possibly several more, no one really knows for sure. If he is a week-to-week decision, that may change how the Patriots view the running back position and may opt to possibly promote someone like Kenneth Farrow from the practice squad if it is just for a very short period.

Farrow played with the Chargers during the 2016 season. Appearing in 13 games, he rushed 60 times for 192 yards and caught 13 passes for 70 yards. Farrow is built slightly larger than James White or Michel, while only 5’9, he tops out at 219 pounds. While not the prototypical “big back”, he offers enough for the Patriots to maybe get some production from.

The other two options are signing a street free agent or make a trade. One possible trade option could involve the Broncos Devontae Booker. Booker was drafted by the Broncos in the 4th Round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Utah. He’s 5’11, 219 pounds and has been dropped on the Broncos depth chart due to the emergence of running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay.

Running back Devontae Booker #23 of the Denver Broncos rushes for a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers (USA Today)

He has been dropped down to third on the Broncos running back depth chart behind those two and is barely seeing the field. Against the Cardinals, on Thursday night he got zero carries and just one catch in the passing game. Two weeks ago against the Rams, Booker had just two carries and caught two passes. A change of scenery could be just the thing that he needs to energize his career.

Booker would be a nice fit in the Patriots offense because he’s a versatile kind of guy that they like. He can run the ball between the tackles and is a good receiver out of the backfield, something the Patriots like.

Booker has the quickness to the hole and makes good sharp cuts at the point of attack. He has very good vision and is a great fit in a zone blocking scheme. The Patriots offense is a bit multi-dimensional, however, they utilize mainly zone blocking schemes in the running game. Sony Michel came from a zone blocking scheme in Georgia and it is easy to see how well he fits as well.

Booker doesn’t have great, breakaway speed but has been a productive pass catcher out of the backfield. He caught 31 passes as a rookie for Denver and caught 30 more last season for 275 yards on just 38 targets.

He’s just 26 and his contract for the balance of the season would be just $354,375. He is due just $720,000 in 2019.

If Michel is indeed going to be out for several weeks, the Patriots will need to address the position and give James White some breaks. Booker is a decent runner and good pass receiver who would fit well within the Patriots system. He can probably be traded for from the Broncos to New England for a fairly cheap asking price.

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New England Patriots Training Camp Primer – Running Backs

Steve Balestrieri
June 25, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

 

Different Look, Better Production?

The Patriots head into training camp in just a few weeks and there should no shortage of competition at several spots, especially at the back end of the roster. As a lead-in to the beginning of camp, we’ll break down the positions and give our take on who is a lock, a near lock for the 53-man roster and who is on the bubble. Next up are the running backs.

The running back position will look very different in 2018. Dion Lewis is gone, He got a nice deal in free agency and will be in Tennessee this year. The team got back Rex Burkhead, James White returns but the big news is that the team invested a first-round draft pick to select Sony Michel (31st Overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The team is deep, talented and have four good players battling for two roster spots.

So… who’s locked in and who’s on the bubble?

Roster Locks: Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, James Develin

The Patriots did the very unPatriot-like decision to draft a running back in the first round under Bill Belichick.  But the selection of Sony Michel proves to be a very intriguing choice. He split the carries at Georgia with Nick Chubb, so playing in a New England backfield by committee won’t be a big exercise in adapting to the way the Patriots play.

But what stands out about Michel is that he’s a big-time playmaker and should be able to step in and contribute in both the running and passing games right away. He’s a different type of player than Lewis but the chiseled 5’11, 215-pound back has a boatload of potential.

Sony Michel after practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

Burkhead had a very good season in 2017 but appeared in only 10 games due to injuries. He’s back and can contribute in the running game, the passing game and on special teams. He’s a guy who will get about 500-600 combined yards rushing and receiving while being a solid contributor.

James Develin was just resigned to a two-year extension worth about $3.8 million with a $600,000 signing bonus. Develin played in about 30 percent of the Patriots offensive snaps a year ago and his value lies in his blocking. Rewatch the AFC Championship Game and look at the hole Develin blew open for Dion Lewis in the 4th quarter. That kind of smash-mouth football is invaluable in the running game.  

Near Roster Locks: James White

White remains the Patriots go-to third-down running back, especially in the passing game. In 2017, White only had 43 carries but caught 56 passes for 429 yards with 3 touchdowns. His Super Bowl performance against the Falcons shows how hot he can get when getting the favored matchups (6 carries 29 yards 2 TDs, 14 catches 110 yards 1 TD and a 2PT conversion).

 

James White hauls in a pass during practice. (SBalestrieri photo)

On the Bubble: Jeremy Hill, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden

The Patriots invested in Gillislee last year and he ran okay but his lack of production in the passing game made him predictable while on the field and he was a healthy scratch in seven games.

Jeremy Hill was brought in because a change of scenery seemed like was needed for the veteran. He was an extremely productive running back in his first three seasons in the league, tallying up 27 TDs and 2700 yards rushing. But he fell out of favor in Cincinnati and is trying to restart his career here.

The Patriots could use a big physical back to churn up short yardage and be the closer in games. Could he be that guy? Possibly, but he’ll have to have a good summer and show that he still has some tread left on the tires.

Every year it seems, everyone has Brandon Bolden getting cut and every year, he’s back on the team and contributes a tremendous amount on Special Teams where he is a force out there. As a running back, he is a .260 hitter, he can run a bit and catch the odd pass here or there but is an excellent pass blocker. He will be either the 53rd player on the roster or the last guy cut.

Outside Looking in…. Longshots: Ralph Webb

The Patriots signed undrafted free agent Ralph Webb out of Vanderbilt. Webb is a straight-ahead power back with a lack of speed but with excellent vision to see where openings are. Webb is a lunch pail guy who is extremely durable, tough and consistent.

He’s not the biggest guy or the fastest but won’t be outworked. He was productive with 23 touchdowns the past two seasons. With a good summer, Webb could be looking at a practice squad slot and a chance to carve out a role for himself in the case of an injury in 2018 or in 2019.  

He reminds one of a slightly smaller BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He won’t make a lot of people miss but his feet never stop and you’ll get 100 percent on every snap.

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Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Draft Profile, Jaylen Samuels, NC State

Steve Balestrieri
April 9, 2018 at 8:30 am ET

Hard to Pigeon Hole Samuels Into One Position

As the 2018 NFL Draft draws closer we’ll profile some of the players that may be on the Patriots radar or that we feel would be a great fit.

The Patriots and specifically Bill Belichick likes versatile football players. Guys who can do more than one thing are valuable role players and will find their way onto the roster. Some guys who were multifaceted had the good fortune to be called a “Swiss Army knife” as they had some valuable and varied skills

Jaylen Samuels from North Carolina State is a prime example of that. Samuels played tight end for the most part for the Wolfpack but in reality was much more. He is a true jack-of-all-trades as he lined up as a running back, H-Back, Fullback, wide receiver, slot receiver, and took some direct snaps.

He’s not a Swiss Army Knife but more of a chameleon. His skill set is such that some NFL coaches will have a hard time actually deciding what position it is that he will be used at. He played every position on the offense for the Wolfpack except the offensive line. He was NC State’s leading receiver with 76 receptions for 597 yards with 4 touchdowns. He also rushed for 404 yards for another 12 touchdowns.

He is a good route runner with good short area quickness where he can separate from man coverage. He possesses sure hands and will extend with a nice catch radius on throws wide of the mark and haul them in. Samuels was good in short-yardage, showing a nice ability to see the cracks in the defense and find the sticks or the goalline.

Samuels is competitive to the nth degree and will sometimes go over the top and lose his cool, but is a tough competitor and will go all out for his coaches.

With the right coach and the right system, Samuels can line up anywhere and be a factor on offense. As a running back out in the flat, as an H-Back, or in the slot. He will probably become a core special teamer immediately.

Pros:

– Outstanding versatility

– Excellent hands

– Good at both coming out of the backfield and as a WR

– High Football I.Q.

Cons

– Slightly underpowered

– Average speed

– Blocking skills need work

What his Role Will Be:

That is the $64,000 question. He’s probably just best used as a varied weapon where ever the team senses a mismatch.

Will his Role Change from Year 1-2?

It is possible that after a year in the system with the coaches and players that they will find a niche for him, but he may stay a jack of all trades in the offense where the defense can never know what is coming.

How Many Downs Can He Play?

Four

What Current Player on the Roster Will He Replace?

Take your pick, this guy fills so many shoes he could become a valuable player that he could make a bunch of special teams’ players expendable.  

What is his ST Value?

He’d immediately become a core special teams guy with his athleticism and physicality.

Conclusion:
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein in his profile wrote that “Some may see Samuels as a valuable hybrid talent, while others may see a player who offers roster flexibility but lacks a position where he can win consistently. Samuels isn’t a tight end and has to prove he can handle blocking duties well enough to be a fullback. He will, however, appeal to teams looking to disguise their attacks with more diversified personnel groupings. Samuels best fit may be with a zone-scheme team as an RB/FB with the ability to play slot receiver and become a core special teamer.”

Samuels is a guy that you can’t help but root for. His varied skill set will have to be paired with a team that must be creative with his use. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry at NC State. The fact that he can do just about anything on offense could be seen by some as a detriment as some teams won’t be happy unless they can plug him into a specific hole.

What position is Samuels? I think I know how Bill Belichick will answer that. He’s a football player, he’d say and we’ll see how he’ll work out. But with the Patriots, I can see him as a third down running back that they can put in motion out to the slot. An H-Back or even as a flex or “move” tight end. In other words everywhere… and why not?

The kid can play a multitude of roles. After losing playmakers Danny Amendola, and Dion Lewis this spring in free agency, Samuels can help in replacing both in the running as well as the passing game.

Does he fit a specific area of need? Not particularly. But his overall value will outweigh his specific value in any one area. Some team will draft themselves a football player on Day 3 and if they are creative, he will give them mismatches all over the field. Samuels will be a fit in New England because Belichick and McDaniels could definitely find a variety of roles for him to excel in.

Right now the team does not have a fourth or a fifth-round draft pick. I’m sure that will change once the draft begins. That will change. And if they would select him, Samuels would give them a reason every day to keep him around. The man with no true position will end up with several.

Leonard’s highlight reel tape from the ACC Digital Network can be seen here: 

His official highlight tape also by the ACC Digital Network can be seen here: 

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots News 3-4, & AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
March 4, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here are your Sunday’s Patriots news 3-4, & AFC East Notes

This week some light was finally shed on what the illness was that sidelined Patriots offensive tackle Tony Garcia last season. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reported that Garcia suffered from blood clots in his lungs citing a source. Because of that, Garcia was placed on NFI and was lost for the season.

He was placed on blood thinners which caused him to lose 40 pounds. Supposedly, he’s back in the weight room and is expected to make a full recovery. However, his return to the field is uncertain at this time.

Some other good news is that LB Harvey Langi is expected to be a full-participant in the Patriots off-season workouts. Langi too was placed on NFI after both he and his wife were severely injured when their car was rear-ended at a traffic light in Foxboro. Langi and his wife are reportedly fully recovered and he’s expected back on the field.

Combine Fast Trackers: Things are beginning to heat up at the 2018 NFL Combine. It is always intriguing to watch some player’s stock rise or fall depending on their performance there. Although most coaches believe that the most important factors are the medicals and/or the interviews.

One player whose stock rose quickly last season was Grafton, Massachusetts native and UConn alum Obi Melifonwu who drafted by the Raiders. His first NFL season was marred by injuries and he appeared in just five games. He was placed on IR with a hip injury that required surgery. We ran into him this week, as he was back in Mass. and he’s almost fully healed now and said that he should be ready to go once the Raiders kick off their workouts.  

Patriots Receive 4th Round Compensatory Pick in the NFL Draft:
The NFL conducted the coin flip between the Raiders and the 49ers in regards to the upcoming NFL Draft and the Patriots compensation in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade is now settled. The coin flip was done at the NFL Combine and the 49ers won the toss which means they’ll get the 9th overall pick in the draft. The teams will rotate picks in the second round which means the Patriots 2nd round pick via SF will be # 43.

With the added selection, it brings their total draft picks to just six this season.
#31 (round 1)
#43 (round 2)
#63 (round 2)
#95 (round 3)
#136 (round 4)
#205 (round 6)

Deep Running Back Class May Help The Pats in Lewis/Burkhead Situation:
A lot of people are already salivating over the group of talented running backs in this year’s deep class at the NFL Draft in the event that the Patriots will lose either Dion Lewis and/or Rex Burkhead, perhaps both.

We’ve read that the free agent hype on both is heating up. It is often difficult to gauge that before free agency starts because often times it is created by the players’ agents trying to inflate the players’ worth. We aren’t saying that it the case here, just that it has happened before, we won’t really know until the official tampering period begins.

So, while the blow could definitely be softened by dipping into this class of backs that are out there in the draft if either or both Lewis and Burkhead move on, it can also work in the Patriots favor in the opposite way. It could help them retain their services.

The free agent market may not lend itself to overpaying and high bidding on running backs since the draft class is so deep. So that may work in the team’s favor if they decide to make a play to retain their services. If history is any indication, the Patriots will let the players test the market and find what their worth is, and then make a move to keep them here in Foxboro for 2018 and beyond.

Will He or Won’t He? Gronkowski Situation No Clearer:
Last week we wrote that the decision by Rob Gronkowski on whether to retire would be best served if he made it earlier rather than later. Despite reports from national media sources that they expect Gronkowski to be in uniform in 2018, his agent Drew Rosenhaus has stated that he hasn’t made his decision yet and that it was going to take some time.

Rosenhaus appeared with Mike Florio on his “ProFootballTalk Live” show and threw water on the reports that Gronkowski is all set to return. The team has decisions to make with both Martellus Bennett and Dwayne Allen, neither will be back for what their contracts are calling for but regardless, they’ll have to look to the future.

A couple of names to check out in Indianapolis include Oklahoma TE Mark Andrews, who caught 62 passes for 958 yards and eight TDs last year in Norman. South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert is an intriguing player with the Gronkowski-like style of catching and blocking. Despite being from a smaller school, he’s one of the top prospects at the position. And I’d be remiss without mentioning a Gamecock and the SC offense has a good tight end coming out, in Hayden Hurst, who is a bit older due to a baseball career as a pitcher that flamed out due to control issues but he’s a very good receiver with one drop (1) against 100 receptions.

Pats Need to Get Younger at WR This Season:
It appears that Julian Edelman is rehabbing extremely well from his preseason ACL surgery in 2017. With he and Malcolm Mitchell due back from their respective injuries, the Patriots, on paper, would be fairly set at wide receiver.

Edelman, Mitchell, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Kenny Britt return. Danny Amendola is a free agent but is expected to be at least courted to return in 2018. But age is creeping up on this group. Edelman will turn 32 in May, Amendola, 33 during the season, Britt turns 30 and Hogan will turn 31 this season. Cooks is the only youngster of the group. Dorsett is also young but he had trouble catching on with the offense a year ago and was barely used. Mitchell’s knee issues may be chronic and will be monitored moving forward. That was the big knock on him coming out of college.

One receiver to keep an eye on is NC State’s, Jaylen Samuels. Samuels is actually listed as a tight end but will probably be a slot receiver in the NFL. NESN’s Doug Kyed wrote an intriguing piece on the Wolf Pack’s Swiss Army knife. Why will he change positions? Samuels is 5’11, 223 pounds. He caught 77 passes in his final season, but he can run the ball, catch it, block and even throw it, completing 2-3 passes. He’s a guy that can do a bit of everything…even running back kicks. Bill Belichick loves versatile players and Samuels fits the bill (no pun intended) to a tee.

Eastbound and Down…AFC East Notes:

Bills Sign Davis, “the right place to be”:
The Buffalo Bills have signed FA Vontae Davis to a one-year deal that has $3.5 million in guaranteed money. Davis signed because he was released last season and was allowed to sign anywhere he chose immediately.

For Davis, the selling point was the young talent that coach Sean McDermott is assembling around Orchard Park and his belief that he can help. Davis on speaking to the media this week said although it was his first visit, his mind kept returning to Buffalo.

“They made me feel at home. As I went on my visit and kind of evaluated, it felt like I was just drawn to Buffalo because of how everybody made me feel. I feel like they run their organization with a lot of integrity. They respect their players. I just felt like it was the place to be.

“Even though Buffalo was one of my first visits, as I evaluated things, it seems like it just stuck with me throughout all my visits. It had a huge impression on me.”

The Bills also interviewed Louisville QB Lamar Jackson at the NFL Combine. It is intriguing because the system that Buffalo will use on offense, the Erhardt-Perkins system that Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll will use, is what Jackson ran at Louisville so, if the Bills do select him, he’ll fit seamlessly into it.

Dolphins Swing Big Trade to Nab Edge Rusher Robert Quinn:
The Miami Dolphins have swapped a reported fourth-round draft pick to the LA Rams for edge rusher Robert Quinn. The two teams also swapped sixth-round picks. The trade will not become official until the league year begins on March 14.

Quinn, 27, had 8.5 sacks for the Rams and has two years remaining on his deal which is set to pay him approximately $24 million over the course of the deal. The Rams dealt him in essence for salary cap space.

Quinn paired with Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh, gives the Dolphins three very good pass rushers for their defense in 2018.

In a Not-so-surprising Move, the Jets Release Wilkerson:
The New York Jets released defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson on Wednesday, after a seven-year hitch that ended badly for both parties. Wilkerson was benched for the final three games of the season for being perpetually late for and sometimes skipping meetings altogether. For a player of his caliber and what he’s being paid, it was unacceptable.

The Jets cut Wilkerson before March 16 or else his $16.75 million salary for 2018 would have become fully guaranteed.

Team officials question his passion for the game once he got paid. He was the recipient of a  five-year, $86 million contract that included $37 million fully guaranteed at signing in 2016 after a career year in 2015.

Since that time, his play has gone down while his absences from team meetings have gone up.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Can the New England Patriots Keep Free Agent Rex Burkhead?

Steve Balestrieri
February 16, 2018 at 8:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited in others.

The Patriots have only $13.14 million dollars under the salary cap right now and will have to be creative in creating some room as well as decide who they want to retain. They’ll need to sign a few of their own free agents as well as grab some others who they covet from other teams. All the while knowing they have draft choices to sign.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the more intriguing players facing free agency is running back Rex Burkhead.

The Patriots made a very nice move last spring grabbing Burkhead off of the free agency pile in an under-the-radar move from the Cincinnati Bengals. Burkhead was stuck behind two very talented backs and didn’t see the field much. They signed him for the modest price of $3.15 million dollars.

The team liked his versatility, he can run the ball between the tackles, catch it out of the backfield and play a key role on special teams. We knew he’d fit right in here and it was easy to see that the coaches liked what they saw as well.

Burkhead hauls in a pass during Patriots minicamp in June. SBalestrieri photo

Why Burkhead Will Return: The Patriots and especially Bill Belichick love players who can do more than one thing. And versatility is Burkhead’s middle name. His season production, 264 yards on the ground with five touchdowns, 254 yards in the air with three more touchdowns. A blocked kick on Special Teams…

When the Patriots made the backfield a combination of Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and James White, the offense was extremely difficult to stop. The trio made it hard for opposing defenses to expect a pass or a run. All three also do a very good job as pass blockers as well, something the Patriots demand of their running backs

Burkhead was injured a couple of times this season and played in just 10 games in the regular season. And that may work in the Patriots favor this season. He showed the team he is an excellent fit in what they do and his two injuries last season may scare away, would-be suitors from investing heavily in a guy that they’re not sure if he can hold up for the long term.

Why Burkhead Won’t Return: There are enough of Burkhead’s good work with the Patriots on tape to show other teams what he can do. And let’s face it, the Patriots don’t pay their running backs to retain their services. They let them walk to other teams.

Stevan Ridley, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead ring a bell? All of them had fairly good success here in New England. Then when it was time to get paid, they moved on, just like LeGarrette Blount did…twice.

Players like him are rare, he can play four downs and do it all. If a team comes in with an offer that blows him away, he’d be foolish not to consider it. Careers in the NFL are woefully short and so is the window of peak earning potential. And Burkhead is right there. He’ll be 28 this season.

And of course, the Patriots could have cold feet themselves. Burkhead was injured twice last season and a Belichick mantra is availability is very important. Could they decide to walk away because of injury concerns? Absolutely.

Bottom Line: The Patriots love the selfless, egoless attitude of Burkhead. Bill Belichick lauded his work ethic speaking of him before the Super Bowl.

“Rex is really is a four-down player. He can play on first, second, third and fourth down at a good level. And those players are hard to find in the National Football League. He’s a very reliable, dependable player.”

Burkhead saw that for the first time he was given a chance to play meaningful snaps in an offense. And he thrived in it, before getting dinged up. He seemed as happy here as the coaches and other players were to have him here.

Both he and Dion Lewis are free agents this spring. Lewis had much more production this past season and is extremely elusive in the open field. If there is one back who will get a lot of money offered upfront, it is him.

Again this could work in the Patriots favor. They aren’t going to break the bank for Lewis and if another team scoops him up, the team could throw some decent but not crazy money after Burkhead on a short-term (2 years) deal that could lock him up for the foreseeable future.

Various cap-based projections put Burkhead in the $3.3 million dollar range for 2018. That is a modest raise from what the Patriots paid him in 2017, but if they can work out a deal in that vicinity, then there is a very good chance of Burkhead returning.

This is another intriguing decision that Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will have to make this spring. On one hand, they both know what Burkhead brought to the table when he was available on the field. But they also know in his only season in New England, he missed a lot of time.

That’s why a short-term deal would work for both sides. They won’t be able to keep both Lewis and Burkhead. In the end, they may not be able to keep either. But keeping Burkhead is a financially more doable situation for the Patriots. If the money is right…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

New England Patriots Free Agent Profile Dion Lewis

Steve Balestrieri
February 13, 2018 at 9:00 am ET

The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2018 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. Among the veterans looking for a new deal are Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater.  There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who have played significant roles at times and have been limited at others.

While the team has a limited amount of cap space, right now… they should be retooling a few contracts or cutting their ties with some players soon which will create more cap space.

We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the key players facing free agency is running back Dion Lewis. Lewis put it all together in 2017 and proved that he can withstand the rigors of a 16-game season as well as three playoff games and at 27 years old, is in the great position to cash in on free agency. He’s won a Super Bowl and now he wants to get paid.

Lewis’ situation is a bit different than other notable free agents as he’s missed so much time due to injury in the past, it will be interesting to see if there is a great demand for his services on the open market.

But as always, the question remains, who does the team feel is one of their priority free agents? Will Lewis be one of the guys that the Patriots feel like they must re-sign him?

Why Lewis Will Return: The Patriots settled on Lewis in the second half of the season as their go-to back and he didn’t disappoint. He carried the ball 180 times for 896 yards with six touchdowns. He added 32 receptions for 214 yards and three more touchdowns.

But the bottom line was, once they went with Lewis, the offense was much more difficult to stop. Opponents had to respect the run as well as the pass and his versatility was on full display. As we mentioned above, Lewis showed he can stand up to being a feature back. His previous career high for carries was 64 in 2016, this season he nearly tripled that.

Lewis displays the willingness to run the ball between the tackles and for a smaller back, showed remarkable ability to carry would-be tacklers for yards after contact. He also has the innate ability to make people miss in the open field.

Lewis is a well-respected player by his coaches and teammates and they know what he can bring to the table.

Why Lewis Won’t Return: There are a couple of considerations to think about here in regards to Lewis and his tenure here. First, the Patriots have never highly valued the running back position. So, will they pony up the kind of cash that they’ll have to, to keep Lewis in the fold? That is the big question. It will all come down to how much?

Lewis isn’t going to sign anything quickly here. He’s earned his payday and will want to test the waters to see what he can bring in during free agency. The Patriots have allowed Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman to test the waters of free agency in the past with the stipulation that the player gives them a chance to match any offer out there. You can expect the same with the Patriots.

Will another team try to wow Lewis away from New England with a big money contract offer? That is a distinct possibility. Other teams could see the potential with him and with the run/pass option he presents. He could easily be a fit with several other teams out there. It all comes down to money and the amount others are willing to spend. I could easily see the Patriots wish Lewis the best and wave goodbye this spring.

Bottom Line: The Patriots, do, however, recognize what they have in Lewis and the dynamic playmaking ability that he possesses, especially in the open field. Does that mean, the Patriots will break their mold and pay top dollar for a running back? That part is doubtful.

Bill Belichick has always been especially reluctant to pay big bucks to a running back, and one with an injury history like Lewis’.So have most other teams. The NFL really doesn’t value the running back position like in days of yore.

The Patriots have always eschewed the idea of a “feature” running back with the exception of Corey Dillon and have relied on a running back by committee with the likes of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, and Antowain Smith. But this year was a bit different. Although they still used a committee, Lewis was the main guy down the stretch and he was equal to the task.

So what would it take to sign him to a new deal? Several sites have been throwing around the numbers of a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $15 million dollars. If the Patriots are willing to pay Lewis that kind of cash, then I think the deal could definitely work.

Reliability? He caught 32 passes on just 35 targets in 2017, that is a 91 percent completion percentage when the ball is thrown his way. That isn’t good, that is outstanding. And of course, there is the little stat that the Patriots are 32-3 when Lewis is in the lineup and just 13-7 when he’s not.

So, the chances are good, better than 50/50 that Lewis returns to the Patriots for the next three years on a new contract. But it is far from a sure thing. He’s turned enough heads for other teams to look long and hard. And then Lewis will have to decide what is in his best interests for the long term before coming to a decision, but he’s earned that right. If the money is right, he’ll be back. If not, wish him well elsewhere.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.