The New England Patriots shocked many when they selected Alabama running back Damien Harris with the 87th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. The Patriots had selected running back Sony Michel in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, had two highly-productive running backs in James White and Rex Burkhead under contract, and brought back special teams ace Brandon Bolden, so running back was not a position on the radar.
Well, Bill Belichick will always go in the direction that no one expects, so sure, why not? Here’s why the Patriots drafted a running back.
Damien Harris is versatile
Harris has gained 1,000+ yards from scrimmage in each of the past three seasons as one of 14 running backs to surpass 3,000 yards from scrimmage over the past three years. Of those 14 running backs, Harris ranks second with 6.8 yards per carry. He’s the only player to do it in the SEC, which Bill Belichick values greatly.
Harris is both a great runner and a great receiver. He doesn’t dance in the backfield and drives the pile forward. Harris catches passes well out of the backfield, too. While he’s not developed as a blocker, he’s willing and can develop. He and Michel should make a formidable tandem on first and second down, while James White plays on third down.
Rex Burkhead is unreliable
Burkhead’s not a bad player, but he’s battled injuries over the past two seasons with the Patriots. He’s played 18 regular season games, gaining 450 rushing yards and 385 receiving yards. While he’s done it in a rotation, he’s not as good of a receiver as James White and he’s not as good of a runner as Sony Michel.
Burkhead’s averaged 3.7 yards per carry behind the same offensive line that Michel gained 4.5 yards per carry. While Burkhead’s under contract, it’s very possible that the Patriots are preparing to move on from Burkhead- or at least to play without Burkhead- and Harris is a great option.
Patriots are dedicated to the running game
The Patriots have the best interior offensive line in the NFL and added a ferocious run-blocking receiver in N’Keal Harry. They’re one of the few teams that really use a fullback on a regular basis.
As defenses get smaller and lighter to defend passing attacks, the Patriots are getting bigger and stronger on offense to overpower opponents. Tom Brady is getting older and the best way for him to age gracefully is to give him a complementary running game. It’s clear that New England wants the running game to be a major focus.
How would you grade the Patriots’ selection of Damien Harris?
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