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Patriots roster tier: The running backs

Related: Patriots roster tier: The quarterbacks

NFL: NOV 24 Cowboys at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We are back folks! Welcome to the second installment of Patriots Roster Tier, I am your host Keagan Stiefel (follow me on twitter here @KeaganStiefel). If you missed the first installment of this groundbreaking and never done before series you can catch it here. That is where you can find the explanations of all five categories as well as the rules to a fun little game were going to play throughout this series.

Now that I’ve gotten all of my shameless plugs out of the way let’s take a look at the running backs. Here is the list:

In order: James White, Sony Michel, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, Rex Burkhead, J.J. Taylor

The Guy

James WhiteWhen a play needs to be made what other running back would you want on the field? It seems as if White has improved every season since coming out of Wisconsin in 2014. He saw a slight regression last season from his career year in 2018 (87 receptions, 1,176 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns) when his role was decreased, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that his playing time may have had something to do with the sputtering 2019 offense.

Throughout his career White has transformed himself into a premier pass catching back and has a knack for showing up in big spots, most notably Super Bowl 51, a game in which he should have been MVP. If watching him play isn't enough to make you believe he is “The Guy” at the running back position, just listen to what Bill Belichick had to say about him prior to last season, “He’s a guy that almost always does the right thing... instinctive, good judgment and just knows how to play football.”

Roster Locks

Sony Michel Though I firmly believe that James White has been the Patriots number one running back for a few seasons now, (I don’t care that he has more receptions than rushing attempts) that may change this year. No matter who starts the season at QB for the Patriots, it is a virtual guarantee that the Pats will rely heavily on the running game and that means this year is make or break for Sony Michel. Year three is where recent first round running backs have had their most important season, whether it be positively (Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey) or negatively (Trent Richardson).

Michel has been fairly consistent in his two years and proved last season that he can stay healthy, his biggest problem is how one dimensional he has been. With Brady at quarterback the threat of Michel actually catching a ball out of the backfield was non existent, with a new quarterback he may be able to build some chemistry and establish himself as a credible receiving threat, which may open himself up for some better opportunities in the running game. I expect Michel to have his best season yet in 2020.

Damien Harris — The latest victim of the Rookie Running back Redshirt, (patent pending) Harris went the way of James White and Shane Vereen in his introductory season. Harris didn’t show much last season but he went 46 (FORTY SIX!) picks before Jarrett Stidham so it’s safe to say he will make the roster.

In terms of Harris the player, I believe he could be in line for an increased role as the do it all guy, a-la Rex Burkhead. I will get into Burkhead more later but Harris plays the same jack of all trades game. In his time at Alabama, Harris totaled two 1,000+ yard rushing seasons and established himself as a receiving threat his senior year with 22 catches for 204 yards. I shared some of his receptions with my twitter followers.

Fringe Roster Guys

Brandon Bolden & Rex Burkhead — I will lump these two together briefly because it is a unique situation. I cannot envision the 2020 roster with both of these guys on it, but I also cannot envision one without either of them. In other words, it’s one or the other. Personally I would give the nod to Bolden, last year was a bit of a breakout year for him in terms of his contributions on offense. After coming back from Miami, Bolden was thrown into the same sort of gadget role that Patterson held in 2018 scoring a career high four touchdowns. Bolden is a core special teamer and has played 114 of a possible 128 throughout his career. Burkhead on the other hand has missed 17 games in his three seasons in New England. Though he was crucial to the 2018 Super Bowl run and also plays a role on special teams, the Patriots were ravaged with injuries last season and may not be able to over look those injury concerns.


J.J. Taylor — The second Taylor signed his contract he became the shortest player in the NFL. The Arizona product stands at 5’5” and is known for his quickness, running a 7.00 second three-cone, good for third amongst this years combine participants. Taylor is a joy to watch run the football but with an already crowded running back room it would be a shock to see him crack the roster. The reason I don’t have him in the next category is because of the nature of the running back position, injuries are common and Taylor will get a lot of reps in the preseason. (if there is one) If he makes enough big plays you never know. I just expect him to be the next guy to eat up reps so the starters don’t have to. Similar to Nick Brossette, Ralph Webb, and D.J. Foster.

Camp Body (No Chance in Hell)


No Chance List

  • QB Brian Lewerke

That will do it for the second installment, I will be back next time with the wide receivers. I wonder who “The Guy” is in that group...