The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts in late July, currently have 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with a member of New England’s deep running back group.
Name: Rex Burkhead
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 34
Opening day age: 29
Size: 5’10, 215 lbs.
2018 review: After his first season in New England, Rex Burkhead and the Patriots agreed to a three-year contract extension in March 2018 that would keep him from hitting free agency and around through 2020. The first season of the $9.75 million deal was a successful one for the former Cincinnati Bengals running back — although it came with its fair share of ups and downs, especially due to an injury suffered early during the year.
Just three games into the Patriots’ regular season, Burkhead injured his neck and ultimately had to be placed on injured reserve. Luckily for him and the club, the injury was not season-ending which allowed New England to activate the versatile back and regular special teamer at a later point during the season: on November 26, exactly two months after being placed on IR, Burkhead was added to the active roster again.
Burkhead went on to appear in every one of the Patriots’ 2018 five regular season and three playoff games that followed his reactivation, filling his normal role as a change-of-pace back primarily on first and second down. As such, the 28-year-old was on the field for around a fourth of New England’s offensive snaps any given week — finishing the 2018 regular season with a total playing time share of 13.5% (151 of 1,119).
The postseason was more of the same for Burkhead. He was on the field for 60 of a possible 252 offensive snaps (23.8%), and saw plenty of action as both a ball carrier and a receiving back. He ended the playoffs with 30 total touches for 141 yards and 3 touchdowns, most of which on the ground: Burkhead carried the football 23 times for 96 yards and the 3 scores — including the touchdown that ended the AFC Championship Game in overtime.
All in all, Burkhead proved his value to the Patriots in 2018. While he did not post the same flashy receiving numbers as James White or the rushing totals of Sony Michel, he filled his role as a rotational player well. On offense, Burkhead was a key cog inserted into the machinery on a regular basis; on special teams, he played 117 of a possible 223 snaps (52.5%) after his return from injury and registered three total tackles.
2019 preview: While Burkhead’s offensive role was dependent on game plan and situation in 2018, he should still be considered a safe bet to make New England’s 53-man roster this season — despite a $3.0 million salary cap hit. He has proven himself a capable option out of the backfield as both a runner and a receiver, after all, and is among the most active special teamers on the Patriots’ current pay roll.
Added all up, Burkhead will again see regular snaps as a versatile early-down back capable of serving as a pass catcher as well. In that role, he is projected to rotate in and out of the lineup alongside Sony Michel and Damien Harris and to also back up receiving back James White. All in all, Burkhead should therefore be on the field for around 20-30% of snaps each week and finish with around ten touches per contest.
Beyond his contributions on offense, the former sixth-round draft pick 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. Burkhead’s special teams workload will likely remain high no matter his actual usage on offense — showing once more that he is a valuable member of New England’s roster.