The New England Patriots’ staff is currently in Las Vegas, preparing one of the teams at the annual East-West Shrine Bowl. Among the most interesting nuggets to come out of that process is the fact that the team is apparently looking at a particular type of player at the running back position.
The Patriots and the other Atlanta Falcons, who are coaching the other squad, have made an arrangement, as pointed out by Roster Watch. Whereas the Falcons would work with the bigger backs, New England’s staff would have the scat backs on its roster. That is reportedly “what each organization wanted.”
The Patriots looking at the smaller running backs capable of filling a receiving role in their offense does make some sense. After all, the club was left shorthanded at the spot last year following the retirement of James White.
White, who had held that role going all the way back to the 2015 season, stepped aways from the game in training camp. New England turned to free agency pickup Ty Montgomery to replace him, but he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the first game of the year. With rookie Pierre Strong Jr. being eased into the system, Rhamondre Stevenson had to take on a bigger workload; at times the sophomore RB served as an every-down player.
That constellation was far from ideal. Stevenson did an admirable job and finished as the Patriots’ leader in both carries and receptions, but he also seemingly ran out of gas down the stretch. As a consequence, the team looking for more depth in the receiving department makes sense.
So, who are the players working with the Patriots at the Shrine Bowl? The following are on their West roster:
Kazmeir Allen (UCLA): While listed as a running back, Allen has experience in more than just one role: he also played wide receiver for the Bruins. He finished his 2022 redshirt senior season with 64 touches for 606 yards and four touchdowns. While he averaged solid production as a receiver, his rushing average of 13.5 yards on 15 carries stands out.
Travis Dye (USC): Dye suffered a season-ending leg injury in November and was a limited participant throughout Shrine Bowl week, but is a player seemingly tailor-made for New England. A three-down back, who was Oregon’s rushing and receiving leader in 2021 before transferring to USC, he can catch, carry and pass-protect. His injury status is worth considering, but his potential cannot be denied either.
Mohamed Ibrahim (Minnesota): Ibrahim is entering the draft after an immensely productive redshirt senior season for the Golden Gophers. He broke several school records in 2022, and is now the school’s new leader in rushing attempts (320), rushing yards (1,665) and rushing touchdowns (20). He wasn’t used a lot as a receiver in college — he caught just 22 passes for 145 yards — but he has developmental upside in this area.
Xazavian Valladay (Arizona State): Valladay started his career at Wyoming, but after four years with the Cowboys moved to Arizona State last year. In his lone season in Tempe, he touched the ball 252 times for 1,481 yards and 18 touchdowns; most of his production (215-1,192-16) came on the ground, but he also showed his receiving prowess at the Shrine Bowl.
The Patriots are taking a close look at these four players, plus fullback/tight end hybrid Jack Colleto (Oregon State). While that in itself is not a sign that they will invest in one of them, the arrangement with the Falcons is nonetheless a noteworthy one.
For the Patriots, there are several factors impacting whether or not they will go looking for the next James White in this year’s draft. Among them are the development of the aforementioned Pierre Strong Jr. — a fourth-round pick last year — as well as Ty Montgomery’s recovery from season-ending shoulder surgery.
That said, the team is getting a close look at some potential draft targets this week.