With opening day still three months away and the mandatory portion of the initial wave of offseason workouts over, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
During workouts and OTAs, players still have a chance to lay the foundation for their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we’ll continue the series with the Patriots' projected top running back option.
Name: Mike Gillislee
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 35
Opening day age: 26
Size: 5’11, 220 lbs.
2016 review: Mike Gillislee’s fourth season in the NFL – his second with the Buffalo Bills – was the most productive of his career. Be it in terms of yards or playing time, the former fifth round draft pick proved himself a valuable asset for the Bills as the number two running back option behind Pro Bowler LeSean McCoy.
In that role, Gillislee appeared in 15 of Buffalo’s games, missing one game (week 12 against the Jacksonville Jaguars) because of a hamstring injury. Being mostly used as an early down and short yardage ball carrier, he played 284 of a possible 1,064 offensive snaps (26.7%) and finished the year with 577 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 101 carries. Gillislee’s 5.7 yards per attempt led all qualifying runners during the 2016 season.
While he did not see a lot of action in the passing game, the Florida product did catch the occasional pass. Overall, he registered nine receptions for 50 yards and a score throughout the season. Furthermore, he also was regularly used as a special teamer, finishing the year with 164 kicking game snaps (of 463; 35.4%) as well as one kickoff return for 19 yards. He also was responsible for one notable gaffe: Letting a kickoff bounce into the end zone and be recovered by the opponent.
All in all, though, it was a successful campaign for Gillislee. He was able to build on his first year in Buffalo by setting new career heights in almost every major category. And while he never challenged McCoy for the number one role, he did enough to draw the Patriots’ attention once free agency came around.
2017 preview: More than one month after the start of free agency, New England signed restricted free agent Mike Gillislee to a two-year, $6.4 million offer sheet. The Bills, who had tendered the 26-year old at the original level, had five days to match but decided not to. The Patriots sent their 2017 fifth round selection to Buffalo and in return received a player who is a safe bet to get a spot on the 53-man roster.
While Gillislee was never asked to be the featured back during his first four NFL seasons, he is the leading candidate to fulfill this role in New England. If indeed earning the projected spot, he is the leading candidate to finish the season with the most carries, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns on the team; all while sharing duties with the other big back on the roster, fellow offseason acquisition Rex Burkhead.
Of the two, Gillislee is more likely to serve as the bell cow running back during the upcoming season (although the Patriots typically employ their backs based on their opponent). At 5’11, 220 lbs., he certainly has the frame to be used that way and has already proven in the past that he can be a productive and explosive player with the football in his hands – something he likely will see more of in 2017 than prior in his career.
While questions remain how Gillislee’s usage will actually look like and how he will fare in an offense that a) generally focuses more on the pass than the run and b) has a bit less quality along the offensive line, he will see plenty of chances to prove his worth over the summer. If his past progression is any indication, he will turn into a core member of the Patriots’ offense.