The Patriots probably have a very specific job in mind for Rhamondre Stevenson

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The New England Patriots added another running back in the 2021 NFL draft. Rhamondre Stevenson, an Oklahoma product, is the third running back the Patriots have drafted in the last four years after first-rounder Sony Michel (2018) and third-rounder Damien Harris (2020).

It seems like overkill, right? Especially in the NFL where many analysts argue running backs don’t matter. It has been easy to replace them over the past few years, even if a player isn’t paid much or wasn’t drafted high.

In the case of Stevenson, however, the Patriots probably have a very clear-cut plan for him. New England has a mind of projecting what he might also do in the future. But in his rookie season, Stevenson will probably have a small, yet important role: red-zone running back.

Over the last few years, the Patriots used Rex Burkhead and LeGarrette Blount. Burkhead was bigger but presented a unique ability as both a runner and pass-catcher. Blount was just too big to tackle at times. Each had a skillset that made them dangerous in the red zone. And it’s easy to see some shades of both Blount and Burkhead when watching Stevenson at Oklahoma.

Stevenson is 6-foot and 230 pounds, which makes him about 15 pounds heavier than Michel and Harris, the other two between-the-tackles runners for the Patriots. Because Burkhead was oft-injured and those two are on the smaller side, New England resorted to running the ball a lot with quarterback Cam Newton in the red zone in 2020. It became predictable, even if Newton finished the season with an impressive 12 rushing touchdowns.

If the Patriots continue to have Newton work as the starter, they will probably want to lessen the amount of contact for their quarterback. Stevenson can help, working as the hammer inside the 5-yard line. If Mac Jones takes over for Newton, then the Patriots will need Stevenson even more in the red area.

The other reason he’s a good candidate for the red area: He can protect the passer and catch the ball out of the backfield. It’s uncommon for bigger running backs to look comfortable in the passing game, but Stevenson had 18 catches for 211 yards in just six games in 2020. He’s not a one-dimensional threat.

If he can prove to the Patriots he has good ball security, it’s easy to imagine we’ll see Stevenson on the field early and often when the Patriots offense crosses their opponent’s 20-yard line.

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