The New England Patriots currently have the maximum of 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s running backs.
Name: Rex Burkhead
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 34
Opening day age: 28
Size: 5’10, 215 lbs.
2017 review: After four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Rex Burkhead left the team in 2017 and signed a one-year, $3.15 million free agency contract with the Patriots. It proved to be a good deal for both the player and the team: Burkhead joined a team that knew how to get the most of his versatility as a runner, pass catcher, and special teamer while he simultaneously was mostly able to showcase his talents in a contract year.
Overall, the former sixth-round draft pick appeared in 10 regular season and two playoff games for the Patriots. And while he was a steady contributor when on the field, Burkhead also was forced to sit out a combined seven games because of injury: He was absent for four early-season contests after hurting his ribs in week two, and missed the final pair of regular season games due to a minor knee issue.
When healthy, though, Burkhead was an active member of New England’s offensive and kicking game units. All in all, he was on the field for 195 snaps on offense (of 1,139; 17.1%) and finished the regular season with 518 yards from scrimmage: Serving as an early-down back, the ex-Bengal ran the football 64 times for 264 yards and caught 30 passes for 254 yards. He also found the end zone eight times, second-most on the team.
Burkhead also was a steady contributor on special teams and was on the field for 102 regular season kicking game snaps (of 451; 22.6%), registering four tackles and a blocked punt in week 10 against the Denver Broncos. He added 17 more snaps on special teams (of 89; 19.1%) during the two postseason contests for which he was active – but in general looked a bit slowed by his late-season knee injury.
Offensively, Burkhead played only 12 snaps during the playoffs and finished with just four carries for 23 yards and one reception for 46. It was a slow and ultimately unsuccessful end to an otherwise solid first year in New England.
2018 preview: On the first day of free agency, the Patriots re-signed Burkhead to a three-year, $9.75 million contract that will hit the team’s salary cap with $2.3 million this season. Naturally, his new multi-year deal makes Burkhead a lock to be on New England’s 53-man roster come the regular season – and it also is reflective of how the team sees the 28-year old and his role on the team.
If 2017 is any indication, Burkhead will again see regular snaps as a versatile early down running back that is also capable of serving as a pass catcher. In that role, he will form a rotation with Sony Michel and probably one of Mike Gillislee or Jeremy Hill, and depending on the opponent play around 35-50% of snaps any given week. Barring injury, Burkhead should therefore be among the team leaders in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns.
Beyond his contributions on offense, he will again see considerable playing time in the kicking game as a rusher and coverage player as well as a wedge or front-line blocker. How much exposure on special teams Burkhead will get likely depends on his offensive workload: While he was the number two early-down back behind Dion Lewis last season, he might very well start the year as the number one together with Michel – and as such see fewer kicking game snaps.