Patriots 2020 player profile and outlook: RB Rex Burkhead
Rex Burkhead, the change-of-pace back for the New England Patriots, deserves a lot more of a role than just that in 2020.
Rex Burkhead is often the forgotten man in the New England Patriots offense.
Sony Michel and Damien Harris get all the attention as runners — the former as the current engine of the offense and the latter as perhaps his heir apparent, due to their extremely high draft stock. James White is also known as a reliable receiver for the team (he finished No. 2 in receiving yards last season for the Pats).
Where does that leave Burkhead?
The former Cincinnati Bengal will turn 30 in a few weeks. He’s not getting any younger, though he also doesn’t have a ton of mileage on his body either. While he’s played 72 regular season games over the past seven years of his professional career, he’s only had nine starts during that same timeframe.
Will he get more opportunities in Year 8, his fourth season with the Patriots? We’re about to find out…
Best-case scenario projection for 2020
As my colleague notes in his excellent breakdown, the New England Patriots could really benefit from giving Burkhead more touches in 2020 and beyond. He offers the team the advantage of disguise when it comes to play-calling, as multiple analysts have noted New England’s tendency to run with Sony Michel and pass with James White when both backs are in the lineup.
Opposing defenses obviously picked up on this trend — particularly last year — so someone like Burkhead seems like he could be the answer. If he’s in the lineup, defenses have to guess whether the play is going to be a run or a pass, as he’s just as capable of doing either offensively.
In a best-case scenario projection, Rex sets a new career high for himself in all-purpose yards from scrimmage. He had 518 yards in 2017 (264 rushing and 254 receiving), his first season with the Patriots. He missed half the season in 2018, so his totals were lower that year. And in 2019, he had 527 combined yards (254 rushing and 273 receiving).
It’s not crazy to think that, given the right amount of snaps and opportunities, Burkhead could rack up a new career high for himself in all-purpose yards. A goal of 600 or more seems attainable.
Worst-case scenario projection for 2020
A worst-case scenario for Burkhead would honestly probably involve him getting cut. He’s in the final year of a three-year contract extension he signed in 2018.
The Patriots running back room is jam-packed.
It’s unlikely New England moves on from Sony Michel (a former first-round pick) until at least after the season. James White will be a free agent after this season, too, but he’s been rock-solid for the Pats throughout his career. Damien Harris was a third-round pick last year — he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. And Brandon Bolden is a trusted presence on special teams.
If disaster strikes for Burkhead, it likely means he’s the odd man out who gets released before the regular season even begins.