With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 87 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early 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 men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with second-year running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
Name: Rhamondre Stevenson
Position: Running back
Jersey number: 38
Opening day age: 24
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 draft pick by the Patriots last year, meaning that his experience at the professional level is limited to one season plus this year’s offseason workout program. That one season was a successful one for the Oklahoma product, though, and he ended it with 633 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 141 carries. Of course, his experience playing competitive football extends beyond his 2021 rookie campaign and into a 40-game college career.
After failing to meet NCAA qualifications and sitting out the 2016 campaign, Stevenson had an impressive two-year career at Cerritos College between 2017 and 2018. Carrying the football 290 times, he gained 2,612 yards and scored 19 touchdowns, opening the door for him to join the FBS level. He transferred to the University of Oklahoma in 2019 and was able to build on his early college success: in two years and 19 games as a Sooner, Stevenson ran the ball 165 times while gaining 1,180 yards and finding the end zone 13 times.
What did his 2021 season look like? Despite Stevenson missing the first five games of his senior campaign because of a suspension, his 2020 season laid the foundation for what was to come in 2021. It also gave the Patriots confidence to invest the 120th overall pick in the draft to get him aboard, and to add him to a deep running back group that was at the time led by former first-round draft pick Sony Michel and an emerging Damien Harris; Stevenson joined the group as the number three early-down option.
However, Stevenson’s impressive outing in the first two preseason games — 25 carries for 194 yards and a touchdown — contributed to New England trading Michel to the Los Angeles Rams. This, in turn, opened the door for him to take over as RB2 behind Harris, and he indeed was on the Patriots’ game-day roster for the season opener versus the Miami Dolphins. That game, however, saw disaster strike: Stevenson touched the ball two times on five snaps, with the second of those touches resulting in a lost fumble.
The youngster spent the next three games, and four of the next six, on the inactives list. However, he showcased his potential in Week 6 versus Dallas and from Week 9 in Carolina on became a regular member of the Patriots’ backfield rotation alongside Harris; Stevenson appeared in 10 of the team’s final 11 games — missing one contest against Buffalo due to an illness — and therefore finished the year as the No. 2 in the major rushing categories: including the playoffs, he registered 141 attempts for 633 yards and five touchdowns.
Stevenson’s advanced metrics looked pretty good as well. He averaged 2.6 yards after contact and managed to break 16 tackles, which was actually the same number as Harris. As opposed to the starter, however, Stevenson did not spend that much time on the field. Whereas Harris played 424 of 1,169 offensive snaps (36.3%), the fourth-round rookie was on the field for just 286 and a playing time share of 24.5 percent. The rotational role fit him well and also allowed him to mostly avoid the dreaded “rookie wall.”
Besides his contributions as an early-down back, Stevenson also had some positive moments as a receiver; he caught 18 passes for 156 yards in his 13 in-game appearances. His 789 total yards from scrimmage ranked fourth on the team behind only Damien Harris (1,098) and wide receivers Kendrick Bourne (1,016) and Jakobi Meyers (915). Stevenson had some ups and downs — he averaged less than four yards per carry in six of his games and also fumbled twice — but overall had a promising first NFL season.
What is his projected role? Stevenson spent his rookie campaign as the Patriots’ number two early-down back behind Damien Harris, and the expectation is that he will again be employed in a similar way in 2022. That means that he will not be a true bell-cow runner but rather take the field in select situations, much like Harris. Depending on how the team views his development as a receiver out of the backfield, he will realistically be on the field for an average of around one third of New England’s offensive snaps.
Does he have positional versatility? Stevenson showed that he can be successful as a runner and a receiver out of the backfield, but the Patriots did not move him around the formation all that much in 2021. Instead, 98.3 percent of his snaps saw him align in the backfield; for comparison, he played just three snaps split out wide plus two more from the slot. That usage was similar to Damien Harris’ and unless Stevenson develops into a Rex Burkhead-like presence in the New England backfield will likely not change drastically.
What is his special teams value? Even though Stevenson has extensive experience in the game’s third phase from his time at Oklahoma — he finished the 2019 season as the team’s leader in kickoff coverage tackles (7) — the Patriots opted against giving him a regular special teams role last year. Instead, he was on the field for just one snap: he aligned as a kickoff returner at one point in Week 9 against Carolina; Stevenson did not touch the ball.
What is his salary cap situation? Entering the second season of his four-year rookie contract, Stevenson carries a salary cap number of $1.01 million. That number is split up between a $825,000 salary as well as a fully-guaranteed signing bonus proration worth $187,265. With the deal currently not qualifying for Top-51 status, however, only that bonus is on the Patriots’ books at the moment.
How safe is his roster spot? Based on his encouraging rookie performance last year, Stevenson can be regarded as a lock to make New England’s roster. The main question will be whether or not he will be able to steal some snaps away from Damien Harris, who was the Patriots’ lead rusher the last two years but is entering a contract season. The team will always go with the hot hand, which should give Stevenson an opportunity to challenge his more experienced teammate at least somewhat. Either way, however, he should be able to carve out more opportunities compared to his rookie campaign.
One-sentence projection: Stevenson will make the famous second-year jump in 2022, and as a result increase his role and output within New England’s early-down running back rotation.