What’s the Patriots’ plan for pass-catching running backs?
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 12: James White #28 of the New England Patriots makes a catch past the reach of Jerome Baker #55 of the Miami Dolphins during the second half at Gillette Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The New England offense began a restoration project in 2021, breathing life into the passing game. The Patriots can still improve that department with their running backs, after injuries forced Brandon Bolden to step into the role as the third-down passing catching back with little experience. An extra capable receiver out of the backfield provides Mac Jones more options to convert through the air. Fortunately, the solution could still come internally.
Here are a few options for New England to trot out in 2022 as pass catchers.
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 29: James White #28 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against the Arizona Cardinals at Gillette Stadium on November 29, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
White remains the likely option to regain this role as long as he is healthy. White played just three games in 2021 before a hip injury ended his season. Despite a dip in production in 2020, White’s veteran knowledge of the New England offense allows him to remain as a core player.
He posted at least 400 receiving yards in every season from 2015 to 2019 in addition to leading the team in receptions in 2018. White provides the most experience catching passes out of the backfield for Jones to target.
Jan 15, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) makes a catch in the second quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
While Stevenson currently serves as New England’s complementary back with Damien Harris, he recently expressed his desire to improve as a pass-catcher this offseason. Stevenson stepping into a greater receiving role remains the least likely of these candidates after catching just 14 passes in 2021.
MIAMI, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 02: Damien Williams #26 of the Kansas City Chiefs dives into the endzone for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Williams is an enticing idea. The Patriots should know him very well after his three-touchdown performance against New England in the 2018 AFC Championship game. Williams returned to the field with Chicago in 2021, but could find a resurgence in a more capable system with New England. Williams turns 30 in April and could have success on a short-term deal.
TAMPA, FLORIDA – JANUARY 16: Giovani Bernard #25 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers runs with the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second half of the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Raymond James Stadium on January 16, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
After kicking the tires on signing James White, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers brought in Bernard as their pass-catching back in 2021. While he posted career lows in catches and receiving yards in an offense that focuses more on downfield routes for receivers, Bernard did tie a career-high with three touchdown receptions. New England’s utilization of running backs in the passing games opens up an avenue for Bernard to return to greater production.
LANDOVER, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 29: J.D. McKissic #41 of the Washington Football Team carries the ball for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at FedExField on November 29, 2021 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
Entering his age 29 season, McKissic offers recent success in this role with Washington. While he slightly regressed from a highly productive 2020 with 589 receiving yards, he set a career-high in 2021 with 9.2 yards per catch. McKissic is in the midst of the best stretch of his career to continue such production if New England gives him a look.
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