Since LeGarrette Blount’s departure before the 2017 season, the Patriots have used a committee approach to the running back position. Only twice in the last four seasons has a Patriots back played over 40 percent of the team’s snaps – James White did so in both 2018 and 2019.
Entering the 2021 season, the Patriots return three of the top four backs from last year’s rotation. However, shifting circumstances could make the adjustment more than a simple ‘one in, one out’ replacement.
James White, Damien Harris, and Sony Michel all return after playing the first, third, and fourth most running back snaps respectively on the team last season. The initial question for this group is who takes over Rex Burkhead’s 26.6-percent usage rate?
Finding a replacement for Burkhead isn’t a simple task. Patriots running backs can usually be sorted into two groups – early down traditional running backs (ex. Harris, Michel, Blount, Antowain Smith) and third down pass catching backs (ex. White, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Kevin Faulk). Burkhead’s varied skill set allowed him to play both roles as needed.
Those kinds of well-rounded running backs aren’t common, but the Patriots did add another in the draft in fourth-round pick Rhamondre Stevenson. At 6-foot, 245 pounds Stevenson has the downhill ability for short yardage situations. At the same time, he has soft hands to contribute in the passing game – and perhaps more importantly is a strong pass blocker – which is a necessity for a back playing on longer to-go situations.
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.