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 studying sessions, 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 an undrafted rookie running back.
Name: LeShun Daniels Jr.
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 39
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6’0, 225 lbs.
2016 review: After serving as a rotational depth option his first three years at Iowa, LeShun Daniels Jr. led the Hawkeyes in rushing attempts in 2016. The senior carried the football 213 times over the 13 games he appeared in and finished the year with 1,058 rushing yards (5.0 yards/attempt). He was also tied for the team lead with 10 rushing touchdowns.
Daniels Jr.’s season, just like his running style, picked up speed late but the results were impressive: In the second half of the season, the team captain had three 150+ yards performances – all games in which he also scored two times. And while he was limited early in the year by an ankle injury, Daniels Jr. was able to display his physical running style throughout the year.
However, it was still not enough for him to get drafted. His injury history combined with limited usage in the passing game and a relatively slow 4.57 40-yard dash made him and afterthought on draft day. Daniels Jr. did not stay on the open market too long, though, as New England brought him aboard during their initial wave of free agency signings.
2017 preview: Following the draft, the Patriots invested in a total of 21 undrafted rookies. Of those 21, LeShun Daniels Jr. is the only one who plays running back. However, as the seventh pure back on the roster, he is behind a lot of talent and experience. It would therefore not be a surprise to see his practice reps and preseason playing time limited.
But while the 22-year old, who spent his college days playing for former Bill Belichick assistant coach Kirk Ferentz, is a longshot to make the 53-man roster, he might still be able to remain in New England. After all, he is one of only two running backs currently under contract who are still eligible for a spot on the practice squad (the other being D.J. Foster).
As a bigger back, Daniels Jr. would thus offer injury insurance and upside behind bigger backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead. In the long run, he might even be able to step into Burkhead's role in case the free agency signee leaves via free agency next offseason. He will, however, likely not see a lot of action during his rookie campaign.