Patriot Running Backs: Positional Breakdown

Patriot running backs
(Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Patriot running backs are almost always used in a committee. This group will rotate just as much as any New England backfield. One of the deepest position groups in Foxboro is the running back bunch.

Sony Michel

Michel got a bad wrap last year after a promising rookie season. The team lost a lot of talent in the run game that led to his yards per carry dropping from 4.5 to 3.7. He lost a mammoth of a man in Trent Brown to free agency. His replacement, Isaiah Wynn, only played in eight games and was not the mauler that Brown is. David Andrews had blood clots in his lungs that ended his season before it even started. On top of losing two great linemen, Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen also departed. They were both great run blockers. He also lost not only James Develin but the second-string fullback as well. Michel is the definition of a one-cut and-go back that is primed for a quality season with Wynn and Andrews back healthy. Michel and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels got a ton of heat for the lack of production from the running game when in reality they just did not have the personnel to succeed.

James White

James White’s pass-catching ability stretches out a defense. If they put a linebacker on White, he is going to get open. If they place a corner on White it frees up someone in the secondary. Last year the Patriots’ offense was so lackluster that defenses double covered White in the backfield. He still caught 72 passes for 645 yards. Now that the Patriots linemen are back to full health, White should also be able run the ball as well. White does not get enough credit for his ability to run the ball in between the tackles. White averages 4.1 yards per carry which is actually slightly higher than Michel (4.0 y/c).

Damien Harris

Harris basically red-shirted his rookie year. He ran the ball four times for 12 yards. This year, many project Harris to get some actual playing time. It would make sense to spell Michel given his injury history. Damien Harris is a three-down back that can add an element of unpredictability for the defense. Last season if Michel was in the game, it was likely going to be a run. If White was in, it was a pass. Harris excelled in both categories at Alabama and should be a really fun player to watch. I wrote about Damien Harris last season. Here are some of the key points I made:

Harris is a very patient and balanced runner that creates his own running lanes by making small and quick cuts. If there is one thing to watch for in his film, it is his decision making. Specifically how he makes people miss without having to make monster cuts or hurdles. He can regularly just side step defenders which allows him to keep running hard.

Harris is as prepared for the Patriot lifestyle as any rookie in his class. It is rare for a five-star recruit to have to battle for carries in college. Harris has that experience because everyone at Alabama is a five-star recruit, and Saban game plans much like Belicheck. Harris will have no problem splitting carries, and knows how to compete for reps.

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Rex Burkhead

Burkhead is one of my favorite Patriot running backs because he can come in at any point in the game and produce. He provides versatility and is willing to do whatever the team asks in order to be a part of a winning culture, even if that means spending extended time on the bench. Burkhead has only 257 touches in 31 games played for New England but has been quite effective. I am a little worried that Burkhead will become a cap casualty given his $3.9M cap hit this season combined with the depth of the Patriots’ running backs.

Players like Rex have helped develop the Patriot culture. He has been a perfect player to spell Michel and White while providing his own value depending on the game plan.

Brandon Bolden

Bolden is on his second stint in New England after a brief vacation to Miami in 2018. Brandon Bolden is on the roster as a core special teamer but has never struggled as a runner either. Bolden has never had more than 63 carries in a season despite averaging 4.5 yards per carry. He is also a solid receiving back but likely will not spend much time on offense. As I stated before, Patriot running backs have to take a step back and do things Bill Belichick’s way. In return he has received two Super Bowl Rings.

J.J. Taylor

Taylor was recently signed as an undrafted free agent. Standing at only 5’5″ 185 lbs., Taylor is a unique addition to the team. The best case scenario for J.J. Taylor would likely be to sit out in 2020 whether it is on the practice squad or the 53-man roster, and eventually work his way into the rotation. It would take a lot of injuries for the Patriots to put Taylor in the backfield this season, but I do think he will stick around at the NFL level in some capacity. I’m not sure if his future lies in New England, but Taylor is good enough to land on an NFL roster. I wrote about Taylor the day he was signed. Here is an excerpt:

Taylor is a priority-free agent because he is a hard runner that can break more tackles than expected and has the ability to make defenders miss one on one. He is not the fastest running back (4.61 40-yard dash) but he is quick and hard to tackle at times. He also has value in the passing game much like Dion Lewis.

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If you liked this article check out my breakdown of Patriots Quarterbacks.