With the many mind games that Bill Belichick and the Patriots play with opponents and fans, one of the most common and confusing is the running back situation. Each week it is a mystery who gets the start, the third down plays, and the red zone touches. The most recent certainty we’ve had when it came to the running back situation was knowing LeGarrette Blount was getting the goal line touches. Blount hasn’t been on the team since the 2016 season, where he led the league in rushing touchdowns with 18 scores. That also was a franchise record for the Pats.
Most fans assumed the signing of Mike Gillislee, would take over that role in 2017, however that wasn’t the case. Only registering 5 rushing touchdowns the entire season, 3 coming in the very first game of the season which caused many fantasy football owners to panic and scurry to pick up and trade for someone who ended up being a bust. Coming into the 2018 season, Dion Lewis is gone, Sony Michel and Jeremy Hill are due to compete for snaps, and undrafted free agent signing Ralph Webb came booming into the preseason scoring 2 touchdowns in the first game vs the Redskins. Yes, it was during garbage time, but a man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right? (Mr. Webb, you are not trash, just the saying)
Coming into the 2018 season, we can expect to see the following running backs be on the roster or at least fight for a position.
Technically, Brandon Bolden is a running back too, but his specialty lays with special teams (which is deeply underrated IMO) and we can forget about the fullback, James Develin, fullbacks are people too. However, with all these running backs on the team, how likely is it that they all will play? Very likely. Historically the Patriots have used a healthy rotation of running back throughout the game and the season. Last year the Patriots were tied in second place for the most amount of running back used during the season with 5 (6 with Develin) among teams ranking top 10 in rushing yards. The only team to use more running backs? The Philadelphia Eagles. This is important for a couple of reasons. Mainly because it helps keeps opposing teams guessing on personal and strategy, which every fan knows is the Patriots biggest strength.
Another interesting stat comes with the Patriots running backs and the passing game. In 2017, the Patriots had 3 players in the top 20 in catch percentage, basically how many receptions per target. Remember, this included everyone in the NFL. You guessed it, they were all running backs. Dion Lewis was number one OVERALL with a 91.4%, Rex Burkhead came in number five with an 83.3%, and James White posted a 77.8% catch rate at number 17 overall. Pretty insane if you think about all the great receivers we have the league today. Names like Jarvis Landry (69.6%), Odell Beckham Jr. (61%), and Julio Jones (59.5%) were all less than these running backs.
While it will be fun to see some new faces in a new offense, it should be no surprises the Patriots will continue to have the rest of the world guessing on who will get the next rushing attempt. My only request is that Tom Brady sticks to throwing and not running.