Is there anything in the world that Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels covet more in their offense than third-down running backs? Since Bill Belichick’s arrival in 2000, that role has consistently been filled for the New England Patriots. Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Dion Lewis, James White, and Rex Burkhead have kept the tradition alive through two decades and were all focal points of the offense during their stints.
That tradition is coming to a crossroads this offseason, as James White and Rex Burkhead are both slated to become free agents, leaving that ever present role relatively unoccupied. Of the players left on the roster, Brandon Bolden is most likely to take over that role, having tremendous knowledge and experience in the system. They could also hand the reins to young J.J. Taylor, a diminutive but electric running back who made good on his limited opportunities in 2020.
Those are the two options on the current roster, but what if the Patriots look to source their new weapon elsewhere? Perhaps from a place and coach that has Bill Belichick’s admiration? Let us head out west and meet Demetric Felton.
Name: Demetric Felton
Position: Wide Receiver/Running Back
School: UCLA (Senior)
Opening day age: 23
2019 stats: 6 games; 154 touches, 827 yards, 8 touchdowns.
Size: 5’10”, 200 lbs
Expected round: Day 3
#Patriots Draft Target Thread: WR/RB Demetric Felton (UCLA) 5’10 200lbs.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 19, 2021
• Versatile playmaker who can fill multiple roles on an offense.
• Lateral agility is off the charts.
• Can get open on his own, has good feel for working through the trash. pic.twitter.com/mYSM47NRDk
Strengths: The word “versatile” is often thrown around as a way to project the belief that a player can do multiple things. Though Josh Uche exclusively played a pass rushing role at Michigan, we heard draft nicks rave about how versatile he was and how his athleticism projects well to the next level. Scenarios like that are merely projections, Demetric Felton is the real thing. Having played wide receiver, running back, and held the role of kick returner in his collegiate career, Felton has the experience at multiple positions to truly earn himself the tag of a versatile player. Since he does have the pedigree at both spots we’ll break him down as a prospect as it pertains to each spot that he played in college.
(WR) Felton’s ability to accelerate and decelerate in short order is his best attribute by far. In his time playing in the slot, he showed great burst into his routes and had a great knack of gaining ground on defenders before working into his routes. At the tops of his routes he can break down fully, leaving defenders on their heels and giving him an advantage. This is a huge part being successful in option routes, a Patriots slot receiver staple. Combine the route running ability with sure hands and elite lateral agility and you’re cooking with gas.
Another 1v1 from the #SeniorBowl, Felton shows just how different he is with this shoot route. Keeping his shoulders even and giving the DB a false in-step forces that guy to fall back on his heels. It’s a wrap from there. pic.twitter.com/xHKaRgvq1q— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 19, 2021
(RB) Most of Felton’s time in Los Angeles came in the backfield, where he was a great change of pace back. Playing in a zone heavy scheme, he and quarterback Dorian Thomas-Robinson combined for close to 1,000 rushing yards in 2020. His patience and stop-and-start ability were great contributors in his success.
Felton played in Chip Kelly’s —zone run heavy— offense. Something that maximized his talents but didn’t do much to help him grow as a true back.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 19, 2021
It did however allow him to show off his great field vision. pic.twitter.com/claNMPxoDv
His athletic profile is exactly what you would expect from a player in his role. He has tremendous straight line speed and unreal field vision. His agility in the open field is at a very high level, single defenders will rarely bring him down. A shifty, big play threat in all senses of the terms.
Weaknesses: Is he versatile or a tweener? That is a question a lot will ask. Lacking the height to be a true receiver, and sitting about 30lbs shy of being able to carry the load of an early down back, there is a very specific role that Felton will be playing at the next level.
Finding the right team who can slot him into that role will be paramount in his success at the next level. Speaking of that role….
What would be his role? The role Felton is best suited for is one that has become a staple in New England’s offense, the change of pace/third down back.
Patriots running backs have produced greatly, specifically over the last five seasons.
The #Patriots need to replace the receiving production they're about to lose at RB.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 18, 2021
Since 2016, NE RB's have averaged: 110 catches, 900 yards, and 7 TD's per season.
The four RB's on their roster have combined for 91 catches, 811 yards, and 5 TD's in their CAREERS. (14 seasons)
Felton’s role would be filling in for at least some of the production they look like they’ll be losing.
Does he have positional versatility? Demetric Felton has ALL of the positional versatility. Not only did he split time between running back and wide receiver, but he returned kicks and played on multiple special teams units in his time at UCLA.
Who’s his competition? The Patriots are well split on depth in the early down role and the late down role. Damien Harris and Sony Michel will retain their workhorse status’ while Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor both bring —varying levels of— experience to the late down role that Felton would likely occupy.
In a perfect world, Bolden continues to be a core special teamer that doesn’t see much time on offense, Taylor backs up Michel and Harris between the tackles and the change of pace role is open for a guy like Felton.
What is his special teams value? Felton was an effective kick returner when given the opportunity, averaging 23.5 yards per return through three seasons, with a 100-yard TD return in 2019.
Felton even has a little bit of special teams value as well. He returned kicks for the Bruins, including this 100-yard TD. pic.twitter.com/5xzAFSktn4— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) March 19, 2021
Why the Patriots? Regardless of what you would call the role that James White and Rex Burkhead occupied in recent seasons, it is without a doubt one of the most important jobs in the New England offense. With their future uncertain, it looks as if the team will need to find a replacement, and no player directly fits the job description quite like Demetric Felton.
Why not the Patriots? If recent roster moves have told us anything, it is that we are entering a new era of Patriots football. In the first 48 hours of free agency Bill Belichick handed out $87.5M to a couple of tight ends and just north of $48M to a pair of receivers. Having bolstered their receiving depth, it is a question as to whether or not the Felton role is necessary in the New England offense anymore.
Verdict: Ultimately it’s hard to argue against adding a dynamic playmaker to the New England offense, specifically after seeing what we saw in 2020. This is perhaps the best time possible to add a developmental prospect at the running back position as the group of weapons have filled out nicely since free agency opened up. Giving Felton some time to learn, without being a focal point of the offense early on — much like James White— is a better recipe for success than feeding him to the wolves.