Pro Football Focus (PFF) released their running back rankings for 2016 and the Patriots are completely average in 14th place.
“Who really knows who New England’s feature running back really is?,” PFF analyst Mike Renner writes. “Even if there again may not be one this year, it’s still a group that offers a lot of talent.”
The Patriots have the 21st most cap space dedicated to running backs, but the four highest paid backs are all on veteran contracts (Dion Lewis, Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, Donald Brown). The majority of the teams spending less on running backs have good players on rookie contracts.
Head coach Bill Belichick has done a good job of finding capable players at a low price and putting them in a position to succeed.
“Dion Lewis’ 165.2 elusive rating would have been the highest PFF has ever recorded if he had played enough snaps to qualify,” Renner writes. “Dion Lewis is the ultimate wildcard. He’ll never be a 20-carry guy, but he was lightning in the open field last season before going down with an ACL injury. He broke 26 tackles on just 36 receptions last season.”
Lewis returned to the practice field and looks to be on pace to play in week 1. He was the starter prior to injury with roughly two-thirds of the running back snaps and he made the offense completely unstoppable.
But it’s Blount that PFF really likes.
“LeGarrette Blount may be one of the most underrated pure runners in the NFL,” Renner writes, “as he’s averaged a +6.3 cumulative grade and 157.5 carries per year in his six NFL seasons.”
PFF thinks Blount has one of the team-friendliest contracts in the NFL and there’s reason to believe that he will be even better in 2016 behind a capable offensive line. Blount has averaged 56.2 yards per game with the Patriots in his career, so a 900-1,000 yard season isn’t out of the question if he plays the entire season and takes a few extra snaps away from the recovering Lewis.
The Patriots rank ahead of rivals like the Broncos (15th), Jets (17th), Ravens (19th), Colts (29th), and Dolphins (30th), and there’s a quiet belief that the Patriots could add another talented veteran to the stable closer to the start of the season.
Lewis and Blount provide a formidable and team-friendly duo out of the backfield. When you combine their apparent ability with the Patriots talented receivers, it’s clear that the offense is going to be one of the most potent in the league.