The Patriots have fantastic depth at the running back position coming into the 2022 season. But there’s one part of their game that was lacking last year that has appeared to be much improved throughout training camp this month.
New England is known for utilizing players in a variety of ways despite their given position and the running backs have always been a vital part of their offense’s success. This year their role becomes even more important after the unexpected retirement of Patriots’ great James White.
White was a fundamental piece not only in the run game but also as a passing back during his career. With his retirement announcement earlier this month, the team will be looking to replace his production on the field as much as possible. And from what’s been seen in practices so far, Rhamondre Stevenson seems to have stepped up to the plate.
What did Stevenson’s rookie season look like?
A fourth-round pick out of the University of Oklahoma, Stevenson joined the Patriots with a lot of built-up hype. Other than his style of play, at 6 feet and 231 pounds, the comparisons to LeGarrette Blount began right away.
The Patriots have been missing a player with the capabilities that Blount possessed since he left the team after the 2016 season. During his four seasons spent in Foxboro, he was an intricate part of their success, totaling 677 carries for 2,917 and 34 touchdowns in just the regular season. He was also part of two Super Bowl-winning teams in Super Bowls 49 and 51.
But the biggest separation between Blount and Stevenson is their involvement in the passing game. Blount was never integrated much out of the backfield, but his dominance in the run game far exceeded any need to move him elsewhere.
Stevenson shined with his production on the ground during the 12 games he was active for. After fumbling during the Patriots’ first game, he would be sidelined for a few weeks until week five. He would go on to total 133 carries for 606 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 50 rushing yards per game.
Despite his skills in the passing game, Stevenson didn’t catch many footballs during his rookie season. Throughout those 12 games he played in, he only totaled 14/18 receptions for 123 yards, all of which came after White went down with an injury in week three.
Damien Harris was integrated into the role in White’s absence as well. However, he never truly succeeded in the passing game and will likely see a decrease in passes this season.
The majority of any passing plays to running backs went through another versatile player in Brandon Bolden. But with Bolden now a part of the Raiders in Las Vegas, Stevenson will have more opportunities to connect with Mac Jones this season.
How is Stevenson performing this offseason?
With so many players entering their sophomore seasons in 2022, Stevenson’s performance throughout camp and increased involvement overall has somewhat flown under the radar.
Stevenson has discussed working on improving his skills in the passing game this offseason, stating it was his main focus, and already feels more comfortable within the offense.
"“Being in my second year, I’m more comfortable with everything. Like last year, it was just very stressful to say the least. Now, I’m comfortable. I know all my teammates. I know all my coaches. I know what they expect of me. So, I have to come out and do it every single day.”"
Knowing that versatility goes a long way in New England, Stevenson’s offseason work has many taking notice, including his coaches.
Belichick has taken the time to praise the running back’s improved production when speaking to the media this summer and emphasized his development in the passing game again last week.
"“Mondre’s done a really good job improving his pass game skills, starting with blitz pickup and protection. Route running — he’s got good hands, catching the ball’s never really been an issue. It’s setting up defenders, recognizing coverages, when to sit down, when to break, depending on what the rest of the pattern is, how to maximize the distribution on the pattern."
Belichick would continue about the improvements Stevenson has shown, mentioning his route running and knowing the true ins and outs of his position.
"“That comes a lot with experience. There’s so many different variables there. Each play’s a little bit different… But (Stevenson’s) done a good job of, again, gaining experience and all that. He’s way better than he was last year and he understands that’s an important part of his game. It’s not just carrying the ball, it’s all things that go with the passing game.. So, he’s done a great job”"
It’s clear from his increased involvement in the passing game in camp that Stevenson has done the work and Jones is ready to involve him as much as possible.
With so much competition in the running back room, Stevenson’s ability to be used in the passing game will allow him to see the field much more this season.
Filling the void left by White will inevitably increase Stevenson’s stock on the team and prove to be invaluable as the season progresses. It certainly won’t come easy as most of the workload will be placed on his shoulders alone. But Stevenson has shown to possess a workhorse mentality and continues proving he’s an asset to this team.