The New England Patriots and starting running back Sony Michel received encouraging news yesterday: after the first-round draft selection went down with a serious-looking knee injury in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears, an MRI found no structural damage. While the 22-year old is still expected to miss some time because of the injury and is considered week-to-week, he will return at one point down the line.
The Patriots need to replace Michel in the meantime, and it will not be an easy task: the rookie averaged 22 carries and 105.3 yards over the three games leading up to Sunday’s contest. Of course, New England could turn to its remaining two running backs on the roster to carry the bulk of the load, but more depth would certainly be needed in order to lift some pressure off James White and Kenjon Barner.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five potential options the team might bring in as short-term replacements for Michel and depth options alongside White and Barner. All five of them have some ties to New England, with four of them having already been worked out earlier this season and the fifth currently on the practice squad.
RB Orleans Darkwa
After joining the New York Giants late during his rookie season, Orleans Darkwa was quickly able to establish himself as a depth running back and core special teamer that saw his role grow over the next three years. In 2017, he finally became a regular member of the Giants’ rotation at the position and the result was a career performance: Darkwa finished with 190 touches for 867 yards and five touchdowns. His versatility and experience could make for an intriguing addition to the backfield.
RB Andre Ellington
A versatile running back that amassed over 3,000 yards from scrimmage over the course of his five-year career, Andre Ellington has been on the open market since the start of free agency. The 29-year old, who spent the majority of his career so far with the Arizona Cardinals, is an experienced runner between the tackles that also has seen plenty of targets in the passing game. Despite his smaller build, his experience could help him quickly get up to speed in New England.
RB Kenneth Farrow
In April, coming off a season spent on injured reserve, the Los Angeles Chargers elected to release Kenneth Farrow. The former undrafted free agent, who had spent the first two years of his career with the team, remained on the open market until New England picked him up in late August. Farrow appeared in one preseason contest for the Patriots – registering five rushes for 24 yards while playing 16 offensive snaps – and was let go again during roster cutdowns. Since then, he had two separate stints on the team’s practice squad and with Michel hurting his knee could be a candidate for promotion to the 53-man roster.
RB Charles Sims
Charles Sims joined the NFL in 2014 as a third-round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A versatile back, the West Virginia product appeared in 47 games over his four years with the team and registered 245 carries for 958 yards and two touchdowns as well as 129 catches for 1,190 yards and six scores. However, Sims was a relative afterthought during this year’s free agency and eventually re-joined the Buccaneers before being placed on injured reserve in August. After being released with an injury settlement, the 6’0, 215 lbs back could be an experienced option to fill Michel’s shoes.
RB Charcandrick West
Charcandrick West is another experienced player that could be attractive to the Patriots as a free agency option at running back. The 27-year old, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, has been used as both a ball carrier and a receiver out of the backfield since joining the league in 2014: due to his versatility, he has amassed 341 offensive touches for a combined 1,551 yards and 12 touchdowns. West, who also is no stranger to playing on special teams, is another plug-and-play candidate.
Two notable names are missing from the list above – and for good reason: while former practice squad back and Vanderbilt standout Ralph Webb is still on the open market, he has show little to warrant a spot on the scout team. Seeing him fill a spot on the 53-man roster in light of Michel’s injury seems to be unrealistic. Ex-Patriot Mike Gillislee also comes to mind as a potential addition but a reunion is not expected to happen, according to a recent report by WEEI’s Ryan Hannable.
New England, of course, could also try to swing a trade for a running back – the Detroit Lions’ Ameer Abdullah or the San Francisco 49ers’ Alfred Morris come to mind – but unless Michel is a candidate to be placed on injured reserve and miss at least eight weeks it would be a minor surprise to see the team give up resources to add a player now. After all, Rex Burkhead will be eligible to return off the I.R. list in week 11.