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Grading the Damien Harris selection and how he fits the Patriots offense

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Belichick once again taps into Nick Saban’s program to add a tough-nosed player to his team.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots entered the draft pretty much set at the RB position. Sony Michel became an emerging star after a strong postseason run while the versatile Rex Burkhead and elite pass receiver James White are also on the roster. The team brought back ST stalwart Brandon Bolden after a 1-year stint in Miami, which gave the Patriots four players at the position to work with. Apparently Bill Belichick doesn’t think that’s enough as the Patriots spent a 3rd round pick targeting Alabama RB Damien Harris.

Strengths:

  • Does everything at a solid level: runner, receiver, pass protects
  • Runs behinds his pads well
  • Excellent field vision
  • Nightmare to tackle in space

Weaknesses:

  • Not particularly great at any skill
  • Average athletic profile

Rookie Year Projection

Harris is used to the split backfield situation that he had with Josh Jacobs (who went 24th overall). That would continue to be the case although he’ll be sharing with Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead. It seems to me the Patriots are shifting their offensive philosophy to running and playaction given there will likely be 5 RB locks on the roster unless the Patriots don’t think Burkhead can hold up any longer.

Long Term Projection

Not much will change from Year 1 to Year 4 with Harris. He will be spelling Michel in order to keep him fresh for the postseason. His versatility as a RB makes him a perfect #2 back behind Michel, especially if he can contribute on special teams as well. Michel and Harris are under team control through the 2022 season and could very well be the 1-2 punch in the backfield over the next 4 years.

How Many Downs Can He Impact: 3

Basically he will be asked to do mostly running with the occasional passing and pass protect in this offense on play-action.

Pick Grade: B

I think the Patriots could addressed other needs, hence the low grade, but it looks like they’re going to be running the ball a lot in 2019. There are concerns with the backfield such as Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel’s long term health, so adding another player to the backfield certainly doesn’t hurt. The Patriots are certainly now set at the position with young talent combined with veteran leadership.

EDIT: I’ve had a bit of time to think more about this selection and I’ve decided to improve the grade to B when factoring in the injury histories of the RBs on the roster. I think there’s more value with Harris after realizing that the Patriots are another Michel injury away from being screwed at the position. My original grade was a C because I didn’t think the Patriots needed a RB before Day 3. With Harris in the fold, that is much less of a concern.