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Patriots 2022 offseason preview: Running back remains one of New England’s better position groups

Related: Patriots offseason preview: Quarterback is the least of New England’s concerns

New England Patriots Vs. Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Eight teams are left standing in the NFL postseason tournament, but the New England Patriots are not among them. They are already in the process of turning their attention towards what lies ahead: the offseason has arrived at Gillette Stadium after their wild card playoff loss in Buffalo.

It projects to be an interesting one for the Patriots. The team did go 10-7 in the regular season and returned to the playoffs, but it does face plenty of questions after its late-season collapse and with numerous starters in all three phases headed towards free agency. With that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time one position at a time.

Today, we continue at running back.

Brandon Bolden

Age: 31

Experience: 10

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 16.

2021 review: After opting out of the 2020 season due to concerns about Covid-19, Bolden returned to the Patriots last spring. Initially filling a familiar role as a core special teamer and emergency running back, he saw his role grow once James White was lost for the year due to a hip injury. As a result, Bolden had the most productive season of his career.

Appearing in all 18 of New England’s games and playing 366 of a possible 1,169 offensive snaps, the veteran running back set new career-highs in touches (85) and yards from scrimmage (631); he also scored three touchdowns. No less important was Bolden’s role as a leader in a young running back room.

2022 preview: Set to enter unrestricted free agency in mid-March, Bolden is no lock to return to New England. That said, the team will likely try to retain him on a cost-effective deal. Despite his comparatively advanced age, the veteran still has value as a depth player on offense, kicking game contributor and locker room leader.

Damien Harris

Age: 24

Experience: 3

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Harris has a salary cap hit of $1.19 million in 2022.

2021 review: Harris entered the 2021 season as New England’s undisputed RB1, especially after former first-round draft pick Sony Michel was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in late August. In this role, the 24-year-old appeared in 16 of 18 games and proved himself a driving force behind the Patriots’ offensive success.

In total, Harris carried the football 202 times for 929 yards and 15 touchdowns; he also caught 18 passes for 132 yards. The Alabama product finished the season as New England’s only 1,000-yard skill position player.

While his season as a whole was a strong one, not all went well. Harris missed one game each due to a concussion and a hamstring issue, and also lost two fumbles. The first of which sealed New England’s opening day loss to the Miami Dolphins: Harris lost the football deep in Miami territory in the late fourth quarter, when a field goal would possibly have been enough to secure a win.

2022 preview: Even with rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson putting up solid numbers as well, Harris enters his 2022 contract season as New England’s number one option at the running back position. As such, he will likely see considerable action again and might also benefit from the passing offense around youngster Mac Jones taking the next step in its development.

Devine Ozigbo

Age: 25

Experience: 3

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season after signing a reserve/futures deal.

2021 review: After stints with the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars, Ozigbo joined the Patriots’ practice squad in late November. The former rookie free agent spent the remainder of the season there, even refusing to leave for a better offer from the Jaguars. Ozigbo was elevated to the game-day roster on one occasion, but he did not take the field.

2022 preview: Ozigbo was signed to a reserve/futures contract two days after New England’s season came to an end. The 25-year-old will therefore likely get a chance to compete for a roster spot over the summer, but the depth ahead of him is substantial. That said, if neither Brandon Bolden nor James White are retained he might have a chance to find a role on the team.

Rhamondre Stevenson

Age: 23

Experience: 1

Contract status: Under contract through the 2024 season. Stevenson has a salary cap hit of $1.01 million in 2022.

2021 review: The Patriots invested the 120th overall selection in the fourth round of last year’s draft to get Rhamondre Stevenson on board. The Oklahoma product had a rough debut — he lost a fumble in Week 1 against Miami — and was benched for the next three games. After his return in Week 5 versus the Houston Texans, however, he earned a role as New England’s RB2 alongside Damien Harris.

In this capacity, the rookie ended the season with 13 in-game appearances as well as 789 total yards: Stevenson ran the ball 141 times for 633 yards and five touchdowns while also catching 18 passes for 156 yards.

2022 preview: Stevenson’s rookie season was promising and he appears to be a prime candidate for the famous second-year jump. If the 23-year-old can continue on his trajectory, he should lock earn a valuable role yet again: serving as a rotational option in the backfield alongside Harris, he could carve out a Rex Burkhead-like role as a change-of-pace back with upside as both a runner and a pass catcher.

J.J. Taylor

Age: 24

Experience: 2

Contract status: Under contract through the 2022 season. Taylor has a salary cap hit of $895,000 in 2022.

2021 review: Despite showing some promise as an undrafted rookie in 2020, J.J. Taylor had a quiet sophomore year. The 24-year-old appeared in only five games all season, touching the football just 23 times: he had four catches for eight yards and 19 rushes for 37. Taylor did score the first two touchdowns of his career in Week 7 against the New York Jets, but he basically was a “break glass in case of emergency” option down the stretch.

2022 preview: Taylor arrived in New England as an intriguing prospect but two years into his career has shown little consistency. One therefore has to wonder how the team views his potential contributions moving forward. He might earn a regular role if both Brandon Bolden and James White leave in free agency, but even then it would not be any guarantee.

James White

Age: 29

Experience: 8

Contract status: Set to enter unrestricted free agency on March 16.

2021 review: The Patriots retained James White on a one-year contract last March, and he returned to fill the same receiving back role he had held ever since 2015. However, his eighth year in the league was a short one: the team captain suffered a hip subluxation in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints and was lost for the remainder of the season.

Before going down, he had played one third of New England’s offensive snaps. White touched the football 22 times for 132 yards and a touchdown.

2022 preview: Coming off a season-ending injury and with his 30th birthday coming up in late February, White faces a murky outlook. The Patriots might decide to offer him another low-cost deal to keep him around as a veteran leader and proven receiving back. That said, they will likely not overpay for his services despite his strong contribution as a core member of New England’s Dynasty 2.0.