James White’s pending free agency is one of the most under-discussed topics of this Patriots offseason. Over the last three seasons, White has played more snaps for the team than any other running back, and has been finished first or second on the team among all players in catches.
With rumors swirling about White potentially signing elsewhere (Green Bay and Tampa have been popular hypothetical landing spots), the Patriots need to get serious about finding his replacement. Unless they want to pay Aaron Jones $11 million, this free agency class is limited at best when it comes to running backs.
However, the draft is another story. There’s a handful of pass-catching running backs to be excited about, and the Patriots are showing interest in perhaps the most versatile. According to The Draft Network’s Justin Melo, the Patriots are one of a handful of teams to have a pre-draft virtual meeting with UCLA’s Demetric Felton.
There’s a lot to like with Felton, but his unique career arc makes him ideal for the Patriots third down back role. Originally a slot receiver, he was used more and more as a gadget player throughout his college career. By his senior season, he saw 90 percent of his snaps at running back. In four years with the Bruins he carried the ball 233 times for 1,101 yards, and had 99 catches for 958 yards. He turned in an impressive performance in this year’s Senior Bowl.
Naturally Felton’s route running ability is as good as any running back that’s been in the draft for the last few years, given his background as a receiver. He can make an impact after the catch as well, as an elusive ball carrier with good vision. Hampering his draft stock are his small frame, the fact he’s still learning the running back position, and his scheme-specific value. He’s currently projected as an early Day 3 pick, but could go as high as the end of the third round.
Felton fits the mold of so many successful pass-catching backs drafted by the Patriots in the past, from White to Shane Vereen all the way back to Kevin Faulk. Will they extend that legacy by taking Felton this year? Or will their plethora of other needs push running back further down the list of priorities?
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.