New England Patriots: RB1 role could be in jeopardy for Mike Gillislee

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 18: Mike Gillislee(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 18: Mike Gillislee(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots brought in Mike Gillislee to be their new lead back, but a hamstring injury has kept him sidelined throughout camp.

This past march, Bill Belichick gave former Bills running back Mike Gillislee just over $3 million a year to take over LeGarrette Blount’s role for the New England Patriots. In 2016, Blount scored 18 times and was the go-to back on early downs, short yardage situations, and late in games when New England entered clock killing mode.

Even though Belichick got a bargain with Gillislee, going out and signing another teams running back to an offer sheet indicated he wanted Gillislee in particular, as he could have looked to the later rounds of the draft to find a power back. Even with 3rd down specialists James White and Dion Lewis likely locked into roster spots, Belichick seeking out Gillislee means he has a very specific role carved out for him.

But Gillislee has been held out of training camp and both of New England’s preseason games with a lingering hamstring issue. His current replacement as the early down and goal line back has been Rex Burkhead, who Belichick also acquired in free agency. What should concern Gillislee is that the Patriots paid basically the same annual salary for Burkhead as they did for him, only on a one year deal.

Heading into camp, the belief was that Mike Gillislee would be the lead back with Lewis and White competing for 3rd down snaps, with Burkhead 4th on the depth chart, serving as a backup and key special teams contributor, similar to Brandon Bolden, who is still on the roster.

Burkhead doesn’t have Gillislee’s power or explosiveness, but his ability to block and run routes combined with at least stellar ability to run between the tackles will get him plenty of playing time. The fact that he’s been on the field working with the starting offense and Gillislee hasn’t only strengthens his case for being the opening night starter.

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When he returns, Belichick will obviously have a role for somebody that he paid starting running back money for. But his workload could be cut into by his current fill-in and Gillislee may not see all the late game and goal line work that everyone, including himself, anticipated.