With running back Dion Lewis needing a second knee surgery on his left knee and, the New England Patriots must find a replacement for their dynamic back.
Lewis’ injury timetable is uncertain, but he is expected to miss 8-10 weeks, so he will likely start the year on the PUP-list. This makes him eligible to return to practice any time between October 18 and November 22. Once he returns to practice, the Patriots will have 21 days to decide to promote him to the active roster or shut him down for the rest of the season. This provides an opening for any Patriots running back willing to take it.
What made Dion Lewis so effective was that his running ability matched that of his pass-catching ability. No matter where he was lined up, whether he was receiving a handoff or pass, the defense had to take note of him. Lewis’ combination of speed and quick cuts made him dangerous running the ball, being able to make any defender miss. He was just as good as a receiver, being able to catch balls out of the backfield, the slot, and even lining up outside.
Dion Lewis was the spark plug of the offense from week 1 to week 9, when his injury occurred. Lewis averaged almost 5 yards per carry as the Patriots lead running back in his shortened 2015 season. He was an even better receiver, averaging almost 11 yards per catch with two touchdowns. There’s no doubt that his presence will be missed throughout this upcoming season.
Third-year running back James White is the immediate replacement for Dion Lewis. After Lewis tore his ACL in week 9 of last season, James White saw increased snaps throughout the back half of the season. He flashed some "Dion Lewis potential," but he was not quite the same player.
James White will split carries with veteran LeGarrette Blount, but will receive most, if not all, of the passes out of the backfield. White has proved to be a reliable, pass-catching running back, but where he lacks is in the running game. James White is not nearly as quick or elusive as Dion Lewis, which makes it hard for him to make up for his smaller stature.
The stats tell the story. White only averaged 2.5 yards per carry in the games he played in 2015, while he averaged over 10 yards per catch out of the backfield. The pass catching stats compare well to those of Dion Lewis, but you can see the drop off in James White’s running production. White obviously knows what part of his game he needs to improve in, and if he is able to be a more effective runner, it will bode well for the offense. Once the defense has to respect James White’s running ability, he will become a very dangerous player.
James White has been solid in the preseason, getting increased playing time due to various injuries to some of the other running backs on the roster. Throughout his short NFL career, he has shown a reliable pair of hands, good speed, and an ability to make defenders miss in the receiving game. He has not experienced any major injuries, so he should be on the field whenever the Patriots call his number.
Dion Lewis is leaving some huge shoes to fill, but the Patriots believe James White has the ability to fill them.