All the talk this offseason regarding the New England Patriots’ running back situation has revolved around LeGarrette Blount and any prospects the Patriots might draft later this month. The conversation has glossed over the rehabbing Dion Lewis as well as promising third-year pro James White.
The Patriots are fortunate to have not just one, but two slippery, shifty and sure-handed running backs. In fact, Lewis and White are very similar. Lewis stands at 5-foot-8 (if that) and weighs in at 195 pounds; White inches above him at 5-foot-9 and packs a bit more of a punch at 204 pounds. But they are more or less the same in terms of size.
Lewis is certainly more dangerous in the open field, although as the 2015 season wore on White proved he can make defenders look foolish as well. Both Lewis and White landed on our countdown of the top 15 Patriots moments of 2015 for these reasons.
Now that the Patriots have the luxury of Lewis and White on the same depth chart, how are they going to use the tandem in 2016? There are a few ways this could transpire.
Considering that Lewis is such a special talent, he will probably start the season pegged ahead of all the Patriots’ running backs except in short-yardage situations (that’s when Blount will earn his paycheck). In this scenario, White will be Lewis’ sub when No. 33 gets gassed.
An extreme of this situation would be characterized by White actually being deactivated from the active roster so the Patriots can use that spot on the roster for, say, an extra defensive end or something. Injury woes or matchup strategy would be the reasons for this decision.
Or, White could play so well in training camp and in limited action that the Patriots simply can’t sit him at all. In that case, White and Lewis would split rushing and receiving reps (although Lewis is better between the tackles than White).
Continuing along this train of thought, imagine a shotgun formation in which Brady has Lewis on one side of him and White on the other with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett in a two-tight end set and Julian Edelman split out wide as the sole receiver. That’s a scary formation if there ever was one; the twin towers of Gronk and Bennett (both 6-foot-6) complimented by the lightning-quick duo of Lewis and White.
All in all, Lewis and White are interchangeable. They both do the same thing, which is why this writer forecasted that Donald Brown may very well be cut in training camp. Should one of them go down for a significant time with injury, then it will be up to the other to pick up the slack. This much was clear when Lewis tore his ACL and White was targeted 44 times over the rest of the season, compared to just 10 times when Lewis was still healthy.
How do you think the Patriots will use this exciting pair? Comment below.