Today we’re taking a look at the Patriots’ running back corps, one of the most intriguing positions on the roster.
With the departure of LeGarrette Blount, who set a team record with 18 rushing touchdowns, things will look a little different in 2017, but the approach should remain the same. The biggest question is of course, who takes those short yardage carries, especially on the goalline where 11 of Blount’s TDs came from just one yard out.
The favorite to be the early down/early game pounder is Mike Gillislee, a restricted free agent the Pats signed away from the Bills and whose one-cut, hard running style is a perfect fit for what the Pats need. But free agent Rex Burkhead, who saw just 13 carries in his first three seasons with the Bengals before getting his shot in 2016 and putting up 4.6 yards-per-attempt, has size and versatility to take some of those carries as well.
As Pro Football Talk pointed out, Gillislee and Burkhead are football analytics all-stars.
Analytics website FootballOutsiders.com ranked Gillislee as the most efficient running back in the NFL last year, and Burkhead as No. 2. Analytics website NumberFire also had Gillislee first and Burkhead second. Analyst Warren Sharp’s metrics had Gillislee first and Burkhead second in success rate, and Burkhead first and Gillislee second in the fewest “missed yards per attempt,” or how close they came to being successful on the plays that weren’t quite good enough to quality as successful.
No matter how the replacing of Blount shakes out, the Patriots have the entire spectrum covered at running back. James White put up an MVP-caliber performance in the Super Bowl, while Dion Lewis, now a full year removed from tearing his ACL, could return to the electric explosion he showed prominently in early 2015.
With battering ram James Devlin leading the way, and a couple young potential practice squad members, there’s nothing this group lacks.
Let’s take a closer look at each.