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Resetting the Patriots’ running back group after the reported Lamar Miller signing

Related: Patriots reportedly signing former Texans, Dolphins running back Lamar Miller

Houston Texans v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The New England Patriots are busy filling the open spots on their 80-man roster, and on Monday brought three players on board to come within one of the threshold: after reportedly signing tight end Jordan Leggett and defensive tackle Darius Kilgo earlier on Monday, the team added veteran running back Lamar Miller to the equation later that same day following a free agency workout.

The move is similar to the Patriots’ trade for cornerback Michael Jackson on Sunday. Running back was already one of the deepest positions on the roster even a) after Brandon Bolden decided to opt out of the season, and b) without Miller, but now has another layer of depth added to it at what projects to be a comparatively moderate price.

With that all said, let’s take a look at how New England’s offensive backfield stacks up with the 29-year-old now a part of the equation — while always keeping in mind that labels are not exclusive and merely a guideline towards a player’s usage within the Patriots’ offensive scheme.

Early-down backs

The players listed here contributed primarily on early down or in short-yardage situations. Their value in the passing game has been limited so far.

Sony Michel (PUP), Damien Harris

With usual lead-back Sony Michel opening training camp on the Patriots’ physically unable to perform list following offseason surgery on his foot, the team has Damien Harris remaining as its lone early-down option for the time being. Lamar Miller, who has 1,409 career rushing attempts on his résumé, could help in this role as well but it would not be surprising to see second-year man Harris get significant looks as the team’s RB1 until Michel is ready to return to the field again.

Even if Harris is indeed seen by the team as the top option to fill Michel’s vacant spot in the lineup and to also receive regular action as a rotational early-down back, adding Miller to the equation significantly upgrades the overall depth and experience at the position.

All-around/Change-of-pace backs

The players listed here have proven themselves not just as ball-carriers but also in the receiving game. Accordingly, their versatile skillsets allow them to be inserted into the lineup on a rotational basis.

Rex Burkhead, Lamar Miller, J.J. Taylor

Even though Rex Burkhead took a pay-cut last month to improve his standing on New England’s roster, he still faces some intriguing competition for the all-around/change-of-pace role this year. Not only did the Patriots sign J.J. Taylor, whose receiving prowess and general skillset make him well-suited to fill the role in their offense, as an undrafted rookie free agent, they also brought Miller on board today to add some proven productivity.

Miller, after all, has crossed the 1,000 scrimmage-yard barrier in five of his last six seasons, only missing it last year when a torn ACL forced him to spend the entire season on the sidelines. Now reportedly fully healthy again, the ninth-year man adds an interesting dynamic to the position.

Third-down backs

The lone player listed here has some value as a runner, but is primarily used as a receiving back in no-huddle and third-down situations.

James White

James White continues to be one of the NFL’s best role-specific running backs and will therefore be prominently featured once again in 2020. Serving primarily in the passing game, on third downs, and in up-tempo situations such as two-minute drills, the 28-year-old is projected to register regular touches as a key member of the club’s aerial attack. Seeing White as a safety blanket receiver for the team’s new starting quarterback would not be a surprise, which is why he should again be expected to be among the team-leaders in touches and yards from scrimmage.

While Miller could cut into his numbers a bit, the veteran is not expected to be impacted too much: White simply is too good at what he does to see a significantly smaller role following the Miller signing.


The lone player listed here will function as a lead-blocker on running downs while also possibly getting some looks as a de facto tight end.

Jakob Johnson

With xJames Develin announcing his retirement from football earlier this offseason, and with fellow fullback Danny Vitale deciding to opt out of the 2020 campaign, Jakob Johnson remains as the lone traditional fullback on New England’s roster. The 25-year-old, who started his career via the NFL’s International Pathway Program, is still not guaranteed a roster spot, though: the Patriots could opt to go without a fullback altogether, or use rookie tight end/H-back Dalton Keene in the role. Realistically and barring any injury, however, Johnson appears to be a safe bet to make the team.

Adding Miller to the equation should not impact him all that much, but it will give Johnson another player for whom to open holes.