The New England Patriots have decided to move on from running back LeGarrette Blount. Is his replacement an upgrade?
This offseason, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick cut ties with an aging LeGarrette Blount after four productive seasons. He was replaced with a younger, more athletic back in Mike Gillislee, who broke out with the Bills in 2016.
Blount had become a fan favorite in Foxboro, as fans got to see him in the end zone 18 times last year. His season looked very successful and productive on the surface, but Blount was really nothing more than a product of what was around him. The truth is, his high touchdown total masked a lowly 3.9 yards per carry average and overall mediocre performance.
Blount had the luxury of playing with Tom Brady and his lethal band of pass catchers. The high-octane passing game prevented defenses from being able to pay any attention to Blount, let alone load the box.
Aside from a bunch of carries near the goal line, which is how he scored most of his touchdowns, Blount’s 2016 season wasn’t anything above average. His age was a certainly a factor. Blount hasn’t exactly ran like the 250-pounder that he is since 2013. For the past few seasons, Blount has just been a big back without the power one would expect. He has still had all the athletic limitations, though.
Bigger backs lacking in quickness and agility usually make up for it with power. While Blount was a quality short yardage back and produced a decent amount of yards after contact, he wasn’t the wrecking ball that many thought he was. Of his 1,161 yards in 2016, not as much of it came as a result of breaking tackles as people thought.
This brings us to Gillislee, who is at the top of the list in yards generated after contact. This is a testament to the power and tackle breaking ability that he brought to the table, but his vision and burst are what make him so dangerous.
That rare explosiveness helped Gillislee produce an elite 5.7 yards per carry in 2016. Playing behind a superstar in LeSean McCoy made Gillislee one of the league’s best kept secrets. The Patriots got a steal because of it.
In New England, defenses won’t be able to key in on Gillislee. We saw what LeGarrette Blount did with that luxury these past few seasons, and it wasn’t anything overwhelming.
The younger, more talented Gillislee should do plenty more with the same opportunity. Opposing defenses will have enough to worry about with the addition of Brandin Cooks to an already lethal passing attack. An improved backfield will make the 2016 Patriot offense that much harder to contain.