Are the Patriots’ skill position players better this year than last?
By Hal Bent
Overlooked production in the passing game
Finally, the team continues to upgrade its pass catchers at the running back position.
Last season, James White set career highs with 87 receptions for 751 yards and seven receiving touchdowns. When Julian Edelman was suspended and Rob Gronkowski was battling a slew of injuries and physical ailments, it was White who stepped up to the plate to engineer the Patriots’ offense during the early stages of the season.
The Patriots are also reportedly expanding the pass-catching role of lead back Sony Michel, who could do even more damage in Year Two if he continues to finesse his abilities as a receiver. After all, Michel was a major revelation in the run game as a rookie, pacing the team in the late stages of the regular season and then deep into the playoffs.
New England also drafted versatile running back Damien Harris out of Alabama in the third round last April. Harris has the pedigree and talent necessary to further elevate the Pats’ running back core to even greater heights. Versatile running back Rex Burkhead also returns for another season in Foxborough, giving the Patriots the league’s strongest platoon of rushers on paper at least.
Last season, the Patriots had the fifth-ranked rushing offense. In addition to White’s 87 receptions, they also had another 34 catches from the running backs as a position group. A goal this season will be to increase that workload in the passing game (and perhaps limit White’s usage to keep him healthy and fresh for the playoffs). If Michel and Harris can help out in the passing game, it makes the offense even less predictable and more multi-faceted.