The Patriots finished off the regular season in rather lackluster fashion on Sunday, defeating the Jets 26-6 and clinching home field advantage throughout the playoffs in the process. Missing James White, Rex Burkhead, and Mike Gillislee, the Patriots had to lean heavily on Dion Lewis to carry the load, and he delivered for the second straight week, racking up 133 yards from scrimmage and finding the end zone twice. Lewis has proven he can be a catalyst for this Patriots offense during the rare times it has stalled, and he should be a major factor in the coming playoffs.
Once a fifth-round pick out of Pitt, the 5’8” Lewis has put the NFL on notice this season. Lewis finished as Pro Football Focus’s third ranked running back, and coming into Week 17, Lewis was fourth in yards after contact per attempt (3.4) and 5th in forced missed tackles on the ground (38). While he does rank just 14th in rushing yards in the NFL, every running back ahead of him had at least 32 more attempts, and 12 of them had at least 50 more attempts.
Because of his lack of volume, Lewis’s numbers don’t jump off the page, but when you look closer, it is easy to see why he deserves to be mentioned along with the best running backs in the NFL. He led the NFL in rushing yards in the second half of the season, and was second in all-purpose yards during that span. Lewis also had the most carries out of all running backs without recording a fumble. He finished second among all running backs in yards per carry with a 5.0 average, meaning he was one of just two backs that averaged over five yards per carry this season (the other being rookie sensation Alvin Kamara). Using Lewis’s yards per carry average, if he had been given 265 carries this year (which would have only been roughly 16 carries per game), Lewis would have put up more yards than the NFL’s rushing leader, Kareem Hunt, on seven less carries than Hunt had.