With the offseason workout program and mandatory minicamp in the books, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2021.”
The team currently has 90 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in August and September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots bounce back from what was a disappointing 7-9 season last year.
Today, the series continues with running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
Name: Rhamondre Stevenson
Position: Running back
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 53)
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6-foot-0, 230 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2024 (2025 UFA)
What is his experience? Stevenson arrived in the NFL as a fourth-round selection by the Patriots in this year’s draft. His experience at the professional level is therefore limited to voluntary offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp, but that does not mean he does not have a lot of football on his résumé. Quite the opposite: between stints at Cerritos College (2017-18) and the University of Oklahoma (2019-20), he appeared in a combined 40 games and laid the foundation for getting drafted 120th overall.
After failing to meet NCAA qualifications and sitting out the 2016 campaign, Stevenson had an impressive two-year career at Cerritos College. Carrying the football 290 times, he gained 2,612 yards and scored 19 touchdowns — the majority of his production coming in 2018. This allowed him to join the Sooners and build on his early success. Despite missing six games due to a suspension, he still carried the football 165 times in 19 games and gained 1,180 yards while finding the end zone 13 times.
What did his 2020 season look like? Stevenson had a successful first season at Oklahoma in 2019, but it ended on a negative note. The junior running back was suspended by the NCAA for the final game of the season due to a failed drug test — a suspension that also impacted his availability in 2020: Stevenson was forced to sit out the first five games of his senior campaign as well, and was therefore unable to join his teammates until a game against Texas Tech in late October.
Once back on the field, however, he immediately made an impact. Playing in his first game in almost a year, Stevenson gained 87 rushing yards on just 13 attempts and found the end zone on three occasions. That game was already a sign of things to come, with the youngster quickly finding his footing and establishing himself as the Sooners’ best running back again. All in all, he finished the season with six in-game appearances after his return, gaining a team-leading 665 rushing yards on 101 carries.
Stevenson, who averaged an impressive 6.6 yards per attempt and had three 100-yard games, also scored 7 touchdowns. On top of it all, he added an additional 211 yards on 18 receptions. His combined output of 876 yards from scrimmage — an average of 146 yards per contest — also was the most on the team. The former junior college standout was voted to the All-Big 12 team as an honorable mention and continued to prove himself as a successful bell-cow back two years removed from junior college competition.
What is his projected role? Former Patriot LeGarrette Blount was a popular comparison when Stevenson arrived in New England, and it is not hard to see why. Just like Blount, the rookie projects as a big-bodied early-down runner capable of winning with power and vision. Heading into the 2021 season, he is therefore projected to share snaps with fellow early-down runners Damien Harris and Sony Michel and possibly be used in short-yardage and goal-line situations as well.
What is his special teams value? With only one member of New England’s running back group seeing regular special teams snaps in 2020 (Rex Burkhead), it would not be a surprise if Stevenson was used almost exclusively on offense as a rookie. That said, he does have extensive experience in the game’s third phase and finished the 2019 season as Oklahoma’s leader in kickoff coverage tackles (7). The Patriots could very well opt to use him in a similar role as well.
Does he have positional versatility? Even though Stevenson is projected as an early-down back with a focus on running the football rather than catching it, he still posted some solid receiving numbers during his college career. Between his stints at Cerritos College and Oklahoma, he caught 46 passes for 511 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Nobody will confuse him with James White, but Stevenson does offer some passing game value as well.
What is his salary cap situation? Stevenson signed a standard four-year rookie pact after getting drafted by the Patriots and will have a salary cap number of $847,265 once he makes the 53-man roster. Until that happens, however, he will only count $187,265 — his 2021 signing bonus proration — against New England’s books: his contract does not qualify him for Top-51 status, meaning that only the guarantees in his deal are currently counted towards the cap during the offseason.
What is his roster outlook? No fourth-round draft pick under Bill Belichick has ever failed to make the team’s 53-man roster, and it would be a major surprise if Stevenson was the one to break this streak. The main question heading into his rookie campaign is therefore whether or not he can carve out a regular role in an offensive backfield that also features Damien Harris and Sony Michel as early-down options. If both Harris and Michel remain on the roster in 2021, Stevenson will likely only see marginal action. However, in case Michel gets traded or, less likely, released, the rookie would take over a more prominent role.