Departed: LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney
Need Level: Medium-High
New England’s running back situation remains in flux as workhorse LeGarrette Blount and the team seem far apart on a contract. The Patriots see Blount as a short-yardage/goal-line back close to 30 years old and not worth much contract-wise with their offense. Blount has some value with New England, but not much on the open market despite 18 rushing touchdowns last year.
Blount averaged a pedestrian 3.9 yards per rush last season and really struggled against teams with speed in the front seven. In the Super Bowl it showed as he was entirely ineffective against the speedy Falcons’ defense (11 rushes for 31 yards). It was seen during the season as he struggled against Buffalo (31 carries for 97 yards over two games), Seattle, the Jets, and Denver (17 rushes for 31 yards in week 15). Blount is a hammer, but not a true number one running back.
The Patriots extended Super Bowl hero James White this offseason locking up their top receiving back. White blossomed in the second half of the 2015 season when Dion Lewis was injured and carried that momentum into the 2016 season. White finished second on the team with 60 receptions out of the backfield. White is a fantastic receiver who is basically a wide receiver lined-up in the backfield.
Behind White, the Patriots have Dion Lewis back and after missing more than half of the regular season Lewis should be much healthier in 2017. Lewis showed his value between the tackles against Denver and their speedy front seven in week 15. With Blount ineffective, Lewis carried 18 times for 95 yards using his low center of gravity and strong legs to pound out yards. He followed that game with strong performances on the ground in weeks sixteen and seventeen seeming wrestling the top back position from Blount.
The Patriots went and got Rex Burkhead from Cincinnati. Burkhead has been buried in Cincinnati but gave a glimpse of his potential as his role grew in the last six games down the stretch as the Bengals gave him a look. Burkhead is low to the ground (five-foot-ten), can pound between the tackles (215 pounds), and has great hands receiving out of the backfield. His pass-catching abilities make him a great fit in New England.
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The Patriots once again went after a restricted free agent within the division signing Buffalo’s Mike Gillislee to a front-loaded offer sheet. With Buffalo already with the highest paid running back in the NFL in LeSean McCoy, the Bills will have a hard time matching the contract for Gillislee with little salary cap space available. Gillislee had a big game against the Patriots in week eight rushing 12 times for 85 yards. He averaged 5.7 yards for the season and looks like a potential upgrade to Blount if the Bills fail to match the offer and take the fifth round draft pick instead.