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Patriots 2023 offseason preview: Running back will continue to be a strength

Our position-by-position offseason analysis continues at the running back position.

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Eight teams are left standing in the NFL playoffs, but the New England Patriots are not among them. Finishing the regular season with an 8-9 record, they failed to qualify for the tournament are already on to the offseason.

It projects to be an interesting one for the team. On the one hand, it is coming off a disappointing year that saw especially the offense fall short of its expectations — a fact that is expected to lead to changes on the coaching staff. On the other hand, however, the Patriots are among the league leaders in offseason resources and already have plenty of young building-block-type players under contract.

With all that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time by looking at each position individually. Today, we continue things at the running back position.

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Interior offensive line | Interior defensive line | Defensive edge | Off-the-ball linebacker | Cornerback | Safety | Special teams

Final 2022 depth chart

Rhamondre Stevenson: Stevenson entered his 2022 sophomore campaign as the projected RB2 alongside Damien Harris, but season’s end was the top option in the offensive backfield. Filling a dual role, he led the team in both rushing attempts and receptions and finished the year with a team-high 1,461 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns. Stevenson carried the football 210 times for 1,040 yards (5.0/carry) and five TDs; he also caught 69 passes for 421 yards and another score.

Damien Harris: The final year of Harris’ contract season proved to be a challenge. Missing time because of three separate injuries, he was limited to 11 games and had to take a backseat to Stevenson for much of the year. He had 106 rushing attempts for 462 yards (4.4/carry) and three touchdowns. Additionally, he gained 97 yards on 17 receptions to give him 559 yards from scrimmage on the year — the third-highest number on the team.

Pierre Strong Jr.: The Patriots’ fourth-round draft pick ended up seeing more snaps on special teams (143) than offense (51), but he proved himself a productive player when trusted with the ball. A capable runner and receiver, Strong Jr. touched the football a combined 17 times for 142 yards and one touchdown. Not all went well for him, though: he had a crucial running-into-the-punter penalty in a Week 12 loss in Minnesota.

Kevin Harris: Drafted two rounds after Strong Jr., Harris opened the season on the practice squad before being promoted in mid-October. He ended up seeing action in five games, carrying the football 18 times for 52 yards (2.9/carry) and one score. The Patriots did not use Harris as a receiver and also gave him no kicking game looks.

J.J. Taylor: There was some hope that Taylor would help replace James White after his retirement but that never materialized. He spent most of his third NFL season on the practice squad, and saw action in only one game. Taylor ended the year with 11 touches for 17 yards.

Ty Montgomery II: After James White retired, the Patriots used Montgomery to fill the receiving back role. His potential within their offense remains TBD, though, after he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 1 against Miami. The veteran had five touches in his first season in New England for 13 yards and one score.

Position assessment

The Patriots have a decision to make this offseason with Damien Harris. He’s been a good player for the Patriots, and gives them two very good running backs in tandem with Rhamondre Stevenson. However, it also seems like they were able to find two pretty solid rookies in 2022 in Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris, and running back is a bit of an expendable position in the NFL.

Are the Patriots really going to want to extend themselves for a player who, at best, is going to split carries in 2023 and beyond? Unless the price is right, it would therefore be a surprise to see Harris back next year.

Ty Montgomery, meanwhile, looked solid until he got hurt late in the preseason and then again in the season opener. He’s also still under contract for next season, but the Patriots can cut him and have almost no dead cap.

Rhamondre Stevenson is obviously the stud in this position group. He had a tough end of the season and seemingly ran out of gas after a heavy workload, but showed himself to be a high-end running back in this league and a guy who can play a key role for the Patriots offense moving forward. If he takes another step in 2023, he could be a real problem for opposing defenses.

Contract assessment

The Patriots should bring back Damien Harris if the price is right. If not, take another player in the mid- to late rounds of the draft to fill in the depth would make sense. Outside of that spot, New England should then rely on Ty Montgomery and especially the second-year players to improve and give Rhamondre Stevenson a breather every now and then.

At the moment, the following players are under contract for 2023:

  • Rhamondre Stevenson: $1.13 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2024
  • Pierre Strong Jr.: $1.05 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2025
  • Kevin Harris: $904,584 salary cap hit | Signed through 2025
  • J.J. Taylor: $940,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2023
  • Ty Montgomery II: $1.58 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2023

The list of free agents looks as follows:

  • Damien Harris: Unrestricted free agent

Level of concern: Very low