Coming off an AFC Championship loss that came just a year after winning their 4th Super Bowl, the Patriots are in great position to contend going forward, especially considering how young their defense is. Experts (Las Vegas) believe the Patriots are still Super Bowl contenders, and they’re absolutely correct, but this team needs to add depth to key areas if they plan on capturing their 5th championship in team history.
First, let’s address the obvious- the offense needs reinforcements at the running back position. One thing that New England needs to get back to is balance; they won their 4th title throwing the ball all over the field, but when they wanted to run (Indy), they could. This was not the case in 2015, even when they had a healthy Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount. The Patriots need a legitimate three-down, talented, fast, and durable back that can take pressure of Tom Brady and add an element to the offense that will make everyone better and harder to defend.
There are two different ways to find a back- free agency or the draft. When a team signs a free agent back, it’s always a gamble because there is going to be some serious wear-and-tear on the player, no matter who it is. There are some good players available though, but only a few are a fit for the Patriots.
Here are the backs to keep an eye on in free agency:
Matt Forte- Good fit, but can he still perform like he did in 2014?
Doug Martin- Still young and coming off a great year, but he may be too $$ for the Patriots.
Lamar Miller- See comment above. Miller is more of a game breaker than Martin.
Chris Ivory- Big back, tough runner; don’t be surprised if New England kicks the tires.
Chris Johnson- He isn’t the 4.3-40 Johnson, but he is still effective and could help the Patriots.
Ronnie Hillman- Fast and explosive but very inconsistent; he’d help, but they need more.
These aren’t the only free agents available, but this is the cream of the crop, which doesn’t say much for this group. Nevertheless, New England would be smart to sign one of these players to have an actual threat in the backfield other than Dion Lewis, who will be returning from a torn ACL and may not be as explosive as he’s been in the past. Re-signing LeGarrette Blount would also be a good idea to provide depth and the occasional spark when he gets rolling, but he cannot be the featured back.
New England does not have a first round pick and they most likely wouldn’t use it on a running back anyways, so it makes sense to take a look at some prospects that may be a fit that will be available from the second round to the late rounds.
Here are some names to keep an eye on that we will be providing full breakdowns of leading up to the Draft:
Derrick Henry, Alabama- Will he slip to 60 for the Pats to scoop him up?
Devontae Booker, Utah- Good runner, good hands, but will it translate to the pros?
C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame- There is no doubt he’s on New England’s radar; he’s versatile.
Josh Ferguson, Illinois- Great speed, decent size, looks the part of a good NFL running back.
Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech- Good hands, tough runner with excellent production.
Kenyan Drake, Alabama- He was a backup in college, but so was Matt Cassel.
Keith Marshall, Georgia- The once highly touted prospect is back and fully healthy.
Dwayne Washington, Washington- The Big Husky could be a late round steal.
Jonathan Williams, Arkansas- Another backup that appears to have an NFL future.
Jordan Howard, Indiana- The big, productive Hoosier could find home in New England.
Knowing the Patriots, they probably won’t draft a single one of these players and they’ll sign some random kid we’ve never heard of, but there are definitely backs available in this draft that could become excellent pros. The only way to find one is to draft one, and that is something New England absolutely needs to do to rebuild their backfield.
The Patriots need to add three running backs- two veterans and a draft pick or rookie free agent. Dion Lewis is expected to be ready to start the regular season, but New England can’t go into the season planning on using the short passing game as the de-facto running game. They need an ACTUAL running game that they can use when the passing game is shut down or the pass rush is working for the opponent.
Great teams run the ball when they can’t throw, which takes pressure off of Brady, and that is something New England needs to return to if they plan on bringing a 5th Lombardi Trophy to Foxboro.
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