The New England Patriots’ running back position saw some turnover this offseason. Former lead-back Damien Harris left to sign with the Buffalo Bills in free agency, while James Robinson was brought in to help bolster the depth in the offensive backfield.
Putting the Harris-Robinson swap into account, the Patriots now have six running backs under contract for 2023. But while the group is deep in numbers, the club might be looking at adding even more talent through the draft later this month.
According to a recent report by Jeff Howe of The Athletic, New England has shown interest in bringing in a “blue-chip” option:
The personnel has turned over, too. They opted for more explosion in the slot with JuJu Smith-Schuster over Jakobi Meyers, and they traded tight end Jonnu Smith before adding Mike Gesicki. They’re building the running game around Rhamondre Stevenson and have quietly shown interest in adding another blue-chip back in the draft.
Who exactly might that blue-chip player be? One candidate might be Texas’ Bijan Robinson, who Howe later claimed the Patriots “are absolutely intrigued by.”
Robinson is one of the best running back prospects to come out of the draft in recent years. He combines size — 5-foot-11, 215 pounds — with a well-rounded skillset: not only does he have the vision, contact balance and elusiveness to be a serious threat on the ground, he also can become an immediate contributor in the passing game.
All things considered, the 21-year-old is a Day 1 starter and likely an immediate difference-maker for whichever team brings him aboard. The question is whether the Patriots would be that team, if Robinson is indeed the rumored player the team is interested in.
At the moment, New England has the aforementioned six backs on its roster. Rhamondre Stevenson is the team’s RB1 after leading the team in all major rushing categories and even receptions last year. Behind him, Pierre Strong Jr. and James Robinson will compete for playing time as change-of-pace backs, with Ty Montgomery the top receiving option (a role Strong Jr. might also fill); Kevin Harris is another early-down option; J.J. Taylor a tweener.
New England still faces questions at the receiving position, with Montgomery missing virtually all of 2021 due to a shoulder injury and Strong Jr. unproven in that department. The Patriots looking to upgrade through the draft would not be a surprise, even though the cost associated with doing so is a factor to consider.
Spending a first-round pick on a running back — even on a rare talent like Robinson or perhaps this year’s No. 2 prospect, Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs — would be a curious move given the Patriots’ needs elsewhere. The mid-to-late-round range, however, could be the sweet spot for the club.
Finding quote-on-quote blue chip talent at that point will not be possible given that players like these do not last long regardless of positional value. That said, serviceable options could still be found in the later rounds.
The Patriots themselves proved that through the years: Rhamondre Stevenson was a fourth-round pick, as was former receiving back James White; Pierre Strong Jr. falls into the same category, with Damien Harris a Round 3 selection.
So, who would be some of the players worth considering beyond Bijan Robinson and Jahmyr Gibbs? Illinois’ Chase Brown, UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet, Georgia’s Kenny McIntosh, or Tulane’s Tyjae Spears come to mind.