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Resetting the Patriots running back depth chart

The current state of New England’s running back unit.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With the addition of former Cincinnati Bengals Rex Burkhead on Tuesday, the Patriots made their first move to address what is a thin spot on the 2017 roster. He is expected to, at the very least, fill Brandon Bolden’s former role as a special teams contributor, and he will likely be given a chance to show his versilitle offensive skill set.

Aside from Burkhead, here is the current state of the Patriots’ running back depth chart.

Dion Lewis

Exp: 6th year

2016 stats: 64 carries, 283 yards/17 catches, 94 yards

2016 snap percentage: 14.62%

2017 cap hit: $1,487,500

2018: Unrestricted Free Agent

The former Pitt Panther enters his third season in Foxborough as the primary ball carrier currently on the roster. When team rolls into camp this August, Lewis will be a full year removed from a second surgery to repair and clean up his torn ACL from the 2015 season. The surgery forced Lewis to spend the first eight weeks of 2016 on the PUP list, and some felt he never fully regained the shake and elusiveness that earned him his “Jitterbug” nickname.

As his snap count increased in 2016, Lewis chewed deeper and deeper into LeGarrette Blount’s share of the carries, creating a match up and personnel-based ground attack that complimented the offense through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. Against the Texans in the divisional round, he became the first player in NFL postseason history to record a rushing, receiving, and kick return touchdown in the same playoff game.

With Blount still testing the waters in free agency, Lewis is the current favorite to lead the running back unit in touches 2017 as the depth chart is currently constructed. If he is able to return to his 2015 health and form, it could force the offensive coaching staff to increase his touch percentage, even with the numerous other mouths to feed on the offense.

Lewis is currently rehabbing the hamstring injury he sustained at the end of regulation in Super Bowl 51. The injury is not considered serious, and he should be ready for OTAs.

Strictly for informational purposes: cutting Dion Lewis would give the Patriots $822,500 in net cap savings in 2017.

James White

Exp: 4th year

2016 stats: 39 carries, 166 yards/60 catches, 551 yards, 5 TD

2016 snap percentage: 35.87%

2017 cap hit: $789,272

2018: Unrestricted Free Agent

White capped off an excellent third season in 2016 with a heroic three-touchdown performance to help fuel the Patriots’ epic Super Bowl 51 comeback over the Falcons.

A former Wisconsin Badger drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, White was groomed from day one to fill the eventual void left by Shane Vereen in the pass-catching running back role. Last season, only Arizona’s David Johnson had a better receiving grade among running backs according to PFF.

Considered by many to still be soft in between the tackles as a ball carrier, White saw a majority of those duties handled by Blount and Lewis in 2016, and 2017 should be no different.

As of the first day of the 2017 league year, White has been eligible to sign an extension with New England, should he and the team agree to terms. If they do not, White will become an unrestricted free agent in 2018.

D. J. Foster

Exp: 2nd year

2016 stats: 7 carries, 24 yards/1 catch, 7 yards

2016 snap percentage: 1.4%

2017 cap hit: $540,000

2018: ERFA

The hybrid RB/WR undrafted free agent rookie out of Arizona State was active for three games in 2016. In training camp, Foster seized the opportunity afforded to him by way of Dion Lewis’ PUP list designation, and forced his way onto the 53-man roster by impressing coaches with his quickness and versatility.

Tyler Gaffney

Exp: 4th year (none accrued)

2016 stats: n/a

2016 snap percentage: n/a

2017 cap hit: $465,000

Gaffney is a 2014 sixth round pick of the Carolina Panthers out of Stanford who the Patriots claimed off of waivers in July of 2014 and placed on IR. Since then, Gaffney has been released three times, resigned four times, and has won two Super Bowl rings. He was promoted to the 53-man roster for two weeks in 2016, but failed to be crack the 46-man active game day lineup.

Simply put, 2017 is Gaffney’s last shot. He is no longer practice squad eligible, so if he fails to the make the 53-man roster coming out of camp this season, he’ll need to put together some strong preseason tape for other running back-needy organizations.

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