The New England Patriots had a productive running game during the 2021 season. Led by the Damien Harris/Rhamondre Stevenson tandem, the group ended the year ranked top-eight in the NFL in volume statistics such as carries, yards and touchdowns, and in efficiency categories like EPA or DVOA.
Even with veteran receiving back James White spending most of the season on injured reserve, the group as a whole looked good. With White set to come back, and with running back/wide receiver Ty Montgomery added in free agency, the group again projects as one of the best in the league heading towards the 2022 season.
At the moment, the Patriots’ running back depth chart looks as follows:
- Damien Harris: 25 | Signed through 2022
- Rhamondre Stevenson: 24 | Signed through 2024
- James White: 30 | Signed through 2023
- Ty Montgomery: 29 | Signed through 2023
- J.J. Taylor: 24 | Signed through 2022
- Devine Ozigbo: 25 | Signed through 2022
While the top of the group — Harris, Stevenson, White — are as solid a one-two-three as any team’s in the league, the long-term outlook is somewhat uncertain. Not only is Harris set to enter unrestricted free agency next year alongside depth options J.J. Taylor and Devine Ozigbo, White is also coming off the aforementioned stint on IR while also being on the wrong side of 30.
The Patriots going after a running back in this year’s draft would therefore not be too big a surprise. Let’s therefore take a look at some potential targets for the team.
N/A: The Patriots will not trade up in the first round to select a running back. Not only is the need at the position relatively minor, there also is no prospect worth moving up for.
Targets at No. 21
N/A: The Patriots will also not go after a running back if the stay at No. 21. The value simply is not there to make such a pick.
Day 2 targets
James Cook, Georgia: Cook rushed for 1,503 yards and 14 touchdowns on just 230 carries as a Bulldog, but he really made his name in the passing game. He caught 67 passes for a total of 730 yards and six scores over the course of his collegiate career. The all-purpose back was also a contributor on Georgia’s special teams units prior to the 2021 season.
Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State: The consensus top running back in this year’s draft, Walker combines quick, light feet with some good burst and the desired physicality as a runner and pass protector. While his receiving contributions leave a lot to be desired, he can be a successful early-down back — and as such take over should Damien Harris leave in free agency next year.
Kyren Williams, Notre Dame: One of the most versatile running back prospects in this year’s draft, Williams is coming off productive back-to-back seasons. The 21-year-old touched the football a combined 492 times for 2,799 yards and 31 touchdowns the last two seasons, and he also looked good when asked to pass-protect.
Day 3 targets/Free agency targets
Tyler Allgeier, BYU: What Allgeier lacks in explosiveness he makes up for in physicality. A disciplined and durable downhill runner, who has every-down potential, he touched the football 304 times during his 2021 redshirt junior season; Allgeier gained a combined 1,800 yards and found the end zone 23 times.
Max Borghi, Washington State: His lack of elusiveness will hurt him at the next level, but Borghi is a compact-built power back that can carve out a role as a change-of-pace option at the next level. During his four years at Washington State, he touched the football 525 times — registering 369 carries and 156 catches — for 3,292 yards and 41 touchdowns.
Tyrion Davis-Price, LSU: Davis-Price decided to forgo his senior season at LSU after serving as the Tigers’ rushing leader in each of his last two seasons. He won’t wow anybody with his wiggle or burst, but he can be a high-motor early-down option at the next level that should also be able to hold his own as a pass protector and in the kicking game.
Mateao Durant, Duke: Despite having rushed for 2,058 yards over the past two seasons, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder will likely be available as a free agent option. Durant has some experience as a receiver, and projects as a depth option and special teamer.
Dameon Pierce, Florida: A powerful three-down back that can be successful in every blocking scheme, Pierce never received the opportunity needed to establish himself as one of the premier backs in the nation. That and his lack of high-end speed will hurt his stock, but he can become a reliable contributor at the next level as both a do-it-all back and a special teams contributor.
Brian Robinson Jr., Alabama: If you want a running back to power through people, look no further than Robinson Jr. The 23-year-old, who served as a backup option behind Damien Harris in 2017 and 2018, offers average explosiveness and agility but he can wear defenses down and contribute in the kicking game.
CJ Verdell, Oregon: Injuries limited Verdell to just 10 out of a possible 21 games over the last two seasons, but he offers plenty of upside if the medicals check out. His combination of acceleration and contact balance are NFL-caliber.
The Patriots have never shied away from adding running backs if they believe the end of the road for their present personnel will soon be reached. That might be the case with both Damien Harris and James White, which means that the 2022 draft will tell us a lot about New England’s longer-term intentions at the position.
If the Patriots go after a player such as Brian Robinson Jr. or Tyrion Davis-Price on Day 3, they might be willing to let Harris leave as a free agent next year. Likewise, versatile options such as Kyren Williams or Dameon Pierce might be seen as insurance in case James White is not at 100 percent.