When the regular season began three months ago, the New England Patriots' running back depth chart appeared to be set in stone: Mike Gillislee was supposed to be the early down back, with James White the third down option and Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis – a potential trade chip – the versatile runners also available depending on the situation.
However, 15 weeks into the season, the Patriots running backs' roles look quite different: Lewis has taken over as New England's ball carrier of choice while Gillislee has been inactive in each of the Patriots' six games since the bye week. And judging by Lewis' performance, Gillislee will likely not return as the top option at the position anytime soon.
Lewis has already set new career highs in attempts (130), yards (674) and touchdowns (four) gained on the ground and he's also holding up well when compared to his peers across the league. The 27-year old is third in yards per rush (5.2), 10th in the NFL in all-purpose yards (1,351) – and he leads all running backs in yards after contact, according to ESPN's Mike Clay:
2017 NFL leaders in yards after contact per attempt (min 50 carries):
1. Patriots Dion Lewis - 2.78
2. Eagles L. Blount - 2.69
3. Titans Derrick Henry - 2.65
4. Saints Alvin Kamara - 2.52
5. Saints Mark Ingram - 2.40
Lewis has always been an elusive running back, with his coming-out party in 2015 being the perfect example of that. He turned from relative unknown to star player because of his electrifying runs, broken tackles and ability to create yardage where no yardage was supposed to be created. Unfortunately for Lewis and the 2015 Patriots, the running back tore his ACL nine weeks into the season.
Last year, Lewis was back on the field. And while he was not the same exciting player he was a year earlier, he still had some standout moments – most notably among them stands New England's division playoff game against the Houston Texans during which he became the first player in NFL postseason history to score on a kick return, a pass reception and a run.
Now, the former Philadelphia Eagles fifth-round draft pick appears to be back at the level he was prior to his knee injury. The yards after contact statistic posted above is just another confirmation of that.