As Tom Brady connects over the top with Brandin Cooks in training camp, it's easy to overlook the running backs. But the truth is that the running game has been hugely important to the Patriots.
You only have to go back to last season to see that while yes, the offense does revolve around Brady, the team needs a balanced attack to remain effective. Consider this: In 2016, the Patriots attempted 29.5 rushes per game, which was fourth most in the NFL. Their rushing leader, LeGarrette Blount, finished second in the NFL with 334 carries.
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Say what you want about Blount's production, but he was someone the Patriots counted on not just near the goal line but also all over the field on his way to 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Blount was a workhorse for the Patriots, and now that he's with the Eagles, there will be a new workhorse in New England – and a couple smaller ones in the stable.
The Patriots snagged 5-foot-11, 219-pound Mike Gillislee from the Buffalo Bills over the offseason and signed him to a two-year deal. He's the lead back with plenty of options behind him.
“This is the most talented group of running backs that I’ve ever been a part of,” Gillislee told reporters last week. “These guys are not only great football players, but great human beings as well. I’m just blessed to get this opportunity to be here.”
Mike Gillislee, James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, James Develin (fullback)
That the Patriots acquired Gillislee from the Bills for a fifth round pick may turn out to be one of the biggest steals of the offseason. Behind LeSean McCoy last season, Gillislee averaged 5.7 yards per carry (101 carries, 577 yards, 8 TDs). He also had one of his best games of the 2016 season against the Patriots (12 carries, 85 yards, TD). With an expanded role in a great offense, look for Gillislee to have a breakout year.
Anyone who watched last year's Super Bowl knows James White's worth. The third down back role has been one utilized by Belichick for the majority of his tenure as head coach in New England, whether it was Kevin Faulk, Shane Vereen, and now White. White's 60 receptions for 551 yards and five touchdowns put him right near the top of the NFL for receiving backs last season. The Patriots love those passes out in the flat.
Remember Dion Lewis? Of course you do. At just 5-foot-8, Lewis has made a bigger mark than most could ever imagine. In fact, the Patriots are 17-0 in games he plays. The problem for him has been staying on the field over his first two seasons in New England. Still, when healthy he provides a nice complement to the lead back.
Before trading and signing Gillislee, the Pats signed Rex Burkhead to a one-year deal. The former Bengal provides some versatility to the backfield and could prove to be a valuable backup to Gillislee.
James Develin has been a dependable fullback and Brandon Bolden is primarily a special teamer.
D.J. Foster, LeShun Daniels Jr., Glenn Gronkowski (fullback)