Patriots: Should Rhamondre Stevenson start over Damien Harris?

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 18: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 18: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots might be riding the Mac Jones wave during their five-game winning streak, but this solid run of form has just as much to do with their explosive running game. Bill Belichick has quite the 1-2 punch in the backfield between the consistent Damien Harris and powerful Rhamondre Stevenson.

In his third year out of Alabama, Harris has already topped 600 yards rushing on the season and recorded 100 yards in a single game three times.

However, due to an injury, Stevenson was given the chance to prove he was a starting-caliber running back. After completely dominating the Browns, Stevenson kept up his momentum against the Atlanta Falcons.

He recorded 12 carries for 69 yards, though one longer run was called back due to a holding penalty. Harris amassed 10 carries for 56 yards. With both players having their moments in this game, it calls into question how the carries should be split up in the future.

Harris came into the year as the starter and he hasn’t done much to relinquish that title. However, Belichick is very pragmatic, and he is not one to stick a player who’s performing well on the bench.

How should the Patriots split the carries from this point forward?

Should the Patriots start Damien Harris or Rhamondre Stevenson?

The two players have very similar skill sets, though Harris might just be a bit faster and Stevenson a bit stronger. Schematically, Belichick won’t have to completely upend the offense in order to lean on either of them.

At over 230 pounds, Stevenson has the frame to handle 20 carries a game. With surprising speed and a slightly higher ceiling as a receiver than Harris, the former Oklahoma back has used his proficiency in those areas to average 5.5 yards per carry over the last three games. 

But Harris is an asset, too. After all, his production is nearly identical to his breakout numbers from 2020. Stevenson could bludgeon teams between the tackles, while Harris could break to the outside and rip off big plays.

As good as Harris was both last season and this year, he didn’t enter 2021 with a stranglehold on the RB1 job. Stevenson may start to hit that rookie wall, but with three solid games in a row, decreasing his workload could be a very hard sell in that locker room.

Stevenson should be given a good chunk of the responsibility in the ground game, but as long as Harris continues to make plays, he needs to get somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 touches per game. Leaning on the rushing attack will help the Patriots sustain their winning ways in the winter.