Another Chapter in the Patriots Backfield
Whether it be 2015 with LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis or last year with Lewis and Rex Burkhead, the Patriots backfield is always interesting. This year is no different. With the addition of both Sony Michel and the emergence of James White, this backfield is bound for another unpredictable year. Let’s take a closer look at each piece of this wild depth chart.
Addition of Sony Michel
It had been over ten years since the Patriots had drafted a running back in the first round. That all changed this year. The Patriots selected Georgia RB Sony Michel with the 31st pick of the 2018 draft. Michel nabbed up two 1000+ rushing seasons over his four years with the Bulldogs. He was a very successful college athlete and will look to continue that into his pro career. Michel, however, has been sidelined with an injury sustained in practice August 1st. The injury kept Michel out for the opener against the Houston Texans, but he will hope to be back on the field sooner rather than later. Michel is a sneaky bet for Rookie of the Year for 2018 as many see his ability to gain yards on the ground exceptional. He averaged just under 8 yards per attempt in 2017 and I think his knee is the only issue experts have with him going forward. Being the third running back taken in the draft, expectations are high. But Michel should add an element to this Patriots offense that is hasn’t seen in a long time.
The Emergence of James White
To say James White’s last three seasons have been important to the Patriots success is an understatement. Obviously, he is remembered for his Super Bowl-winning TD in the 2016-17 season. However, that’s not all he should be known for. White has been a key piece to the Patriots teams these past years, totaling just under 1400 yards in the past three years. What White brings to this New England squad is something special. He partners very well with Sony Michel. White is more of a pass-catching back than Michel is. I could definitely see a lot fo two RB formations done with these two on the field. White provides an outlet for Brady as he’s done so for years, and Michel now compliments that ability with his ‘up the gut’ running scheme.
It’s Rex Time
Arguably the biggest surprise of the 2017 season was Rex Burkhead. Burkhead caught the eye of New England after a good season with the Bengals in 2016. After signing with the Pats in the 2017 offseason, Burkhead posted over 500+ total yards along with 8 TDs. That was in just 10 games with the team. Burkhead totaled roughly 50 total yards per game and averaged just under a touchdown per game. If you stretch that out to a 16 game stretch, Burkhead would have totaled over 800 yards and roughly 13 TDs on the season. That’s pretty good in my book. I really don’t think anyone expected this type of production out of Burkhead, but it’s definitely a welcoming surprise. In terms of the depth chart, Burkhead is currently second behind James White. To be completely fair, however, Belichick and the Patriots have been known to shake things up once the season starts up so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this change.
The Patriots have never been one to conform to the rest of the league and their RB situation proves that. Instead of possibly taking a QB of the future in Lamar Jackson, or maybe another piece for the secondary, they took yet another running back. However many did not question this move because of the team’s ability to manage a crowded backfield. We’ve seen it happen time and time again. A running back goes down with a season-ending injury early in the season. It’s a devastating blow to the team. However, the Patriots have constructed a backfield in which all three of their RBs have the ability to lead. It may be hard to understand, but it might just be the move that wins them the Lombardi Trophy once again.