Every week SB Nation asks its team sites to answer a question. This week’s question: “The one thing I would change about my team's season is ...” The New England Patriots have the current number one seed, but there’s a lot that could have played out differently. What would you change?
The Patriots don’t have a lot to complain about as the current #1 seed in the AFC, but the team hasn’t been perfect. They have ugly losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins and a tough one to the Carolina Panthers. They made some roster moves this offseason that didn’t pan out and they traded away Jimmy Garoppolo, who is never going to lose a game ever.
But if I could change one thing about the Patriots season, and I’m going to say that injuries are off limits because that’s not a decision by the team, it would be how they addressed the running back position this offseason.
This is an evaluation in hindsight because I absolutely loved what the Patriots did at running back. I loved the signings of Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee and thought that they would be able to form one of the best duos in the NFL. Burkhead has battled injuries all season and Gillislee has been a healthy scratch since the bye week. It hasn’t gone according to plan.
If the Patriots could do it again, perhaps they would have retained LeGarrette Blount instead of signing Mike Gillislee. The Patriots have used both players in the same fashion- they’ve been grinders between the tackles, but the coaches refused to throw them the ball to soften the run defense in the box- but Blount was a better fit just based on Gillislee’s inactivity.
Gillislee has 355 rushing yards on 98 carries (3.6 YPC) in 2017. Blount has 717 yards on 159 carries (4.5 YPC) with the Philadelphia Eagles and he averaged 4.3 yards per carry over his four-odd years with the Patriots.
Alternatively, the Patriots could have drafted running back Kareem Hunt in the 2017 NFL Draft. Hunt ranks second in the NFL with 1,201 rushing yards and third with 1,641 yards from scrimmage; he’s been one of the best running backs in the entire NFL as a rookie. The Kansas City Chiefs drafted him 86th overall.
The Patriots drafted EDGE Derek Rivers 83rd overall and OT Tony Garcia 85th overall. Neither has played a snap for New England due to injuries, which isn’t something the Patriots could have predicted, but no matter how much they could have contributed, Hunt is already one of the top five running backs in the NFL. That’s a franchise player that was on the board at a position that is currently dealing with injuries and difficult performances.
Dion Lewis is playing at an extremely high level and definitely mitigates some of the difficulties at the position, but with Burkhead’s injuries and Gillislee’s inactivities, it’s clear the Patriots could have addressed the position in a different fashion with greater success.