The New England Patriots are trying to fix their rushing game and they have the running back position divided into two functions: receiving backs, like Dion Lewis and James White, and rushing backs, like LeGarrette Blount.
Blount is a free agent that the Patriots are interested in bringing home, but that won't stop the Patriots front office from trying to find a player in the draft or in free agency that could be an improvement.
While Bill Belichick is the man behind the curtain, Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio is doing a lot of the legwork when it comes to scouting draft prospects. Caserio joined Belichick to watch Auburn's Pro Day, before flying up to Northwestern the next day.
Caserio was at Auburn yesterday as well. https://t.co/VsO3YDccEI— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) March 8, 2016
While Auburn doesn't have the same pedigree of prospects as they have had in recent years, there are still a few names worth knowing.
Left tackle Shon Coleman is regarded as a late-2nd round prospect, while right tackle Avery Young is considered a late round option. Wide receiver Ricardo Louis turned heads at the combine at well.
But running back Peyton Barber might be the player that the Patriots were most interested in watching. Barber declared for the draft because his mother is currently homeless and he believes he'll be able to earn a contract to put a roof over their heads.
Barber is 5'10, 228 lbs and respected analyst Matt Waldman describes his style of play as "barely harnessed violence." The back collected 1,016 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 237 carries (4.3 yards per carry), and added another 112 receiving yards on 11 catches.
While he's projected to be a late-round pick, you can be certain that Caserio and Belichick were considering the potential of Barber either on the roster or the practice squad.
And then Caserio flew away.
#Patriots Nick Caserio met privately with Northwestern FB/HB Dan Vitale today after his Pro Day. Vitale (6-1, 240) had a great Combine— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) March 9, 2016
We know that Caserio was at Northwestern to speak with running back Dan Vitale because there was really no one else of note in attendance. The Patriots also met twice with Vitale at the Combine.
Vitale is a 6'1, 240 lbs running back/fullback hybrid that could compete with James Develin for a roster spot. Vitale is a physical freak, with a 4.6 40, and an impressive 38.5 inch vertical and 10'3 broad. He also pumped an impressive 30 reps on the bench and ran a 7.12 three cone.
The fact that Caserio is looking at these bigger backs shows the importance the team has in improving the running game- whether by blocking or by rushing. We'll see how the team tries to improve over the next couple of months.