One of the greatest strengths for the New England Patriots entering the 2022 season is their running back position. They have talent and a multitude of all-purpose backs.
Do you need a hammer that can run over defenders and grind out the tough runs in short yard situations? This Patriots team has you covered.
What about a running back that can line up wide as a receiver and catch passes? The Patriots can do that as well.
Who wants a player at the position with the ability to do both? Take one look at this Patriots roster and you won’t be disappointed.
Quarterback Mac Jones can drop back and let it fly when called upon, but make no mistake, coach Bill Belichick is still heading into this season with a run-first mentality. It’s all about playing smashmouth football, limiting turnovers and leaning on the defense to close out games.
Here’s what the Patriots are working with at running back this season.
Who is on the roster?
Pierre Strong Jr.
When healthy, it doesn’t get much better than having Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson both coming out of the offensive backfield.
It’s a two-headed monster capable of punishing opposing defenses over the course of a 60-minute football game. Stevenson might be the potential frontrunner for the group, but as of right now, it’s expected that Harris will resume his role as the lead back.
He has experience and a built-in comfort level with Jones, stemming from their days at the University of Alabama together. There’s also the fact that Harris, even to this day, is one of the more underrated running backs in the NFL. Injuries have obviously been an issue, and he certainly hopes to break that run of bad luck this season.
Ty Montgomery provides the team with a nice change-of-pace option, but he’ll predominantly be used to create mismatches for opposing defenses due to his pass-catching abilities. What would a Patriots offense be without a legitimate third-down safety net at running back?
Meanwhile, rookie Pierre Strong Jr. could end up being another home run threat for the team in the offensive backfield. Hand the ball off to the former South Dakota State standout and watch him fly.
He can also throw, too. Just saying.
Strong to Oladokun for a TOUCHDOWN!
Pierre Strong Jr. is now 9-for-9 with 6 TDs in his passing career.
— SDSU Football (@GoJacksFB) November 27, 2021
The Patriots have unquestionable versatility at running back.
Harris is a battering ram that would probably be coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons if he managed to stay healthy. He has served as a reliable downhill runner for the team in the aftermath of the Tom Brady-led offense from previous years.
Combine him with Stevenson and it’s a solid one-two punch coming out of the offensive backfield. Montgomery obviously fits into the group due to his ability to come up big on third downs as a receiver.
But don’t sleep on Stevenson’s ability to do the same. The second-year running back out of Oklahoma could be a breakout candidate, especially with his noticeable improvements when catching passes. It’s going to be hard for Belichick to keep him off the field when he’s clearly the most versatile running back on the roster.
An injury has the potential of derailing all of the hype for the Patriots’ offensive backfield. There isn’t a lot of proven depth behind Harris and Stevenson, particularly when talking about players capable of filling the role of a traditional running back.
Sure, Montgomery can line up as a receiver and haul in a short pass. But can he power his way for short yards on the ground to move the sticks?
If not Montgomery, then the Patriots are down to Strong. Granted, there is a lot to like from the 23-year-old rusher, but Belichick clearly has trust issues, as any great coach, with first-year players running up their carry total.
Stevenson did appear to be a bit of an exception to the rule last season, but Harris was still clearly the No. 1 running back for the team. However, if the injury bug bites, the Patriots could be put in a position where they’d have to rely on the rookie more than they’d like. This is the part where losing a player like Brandon Bolden really hurts.
Overall Grade: B+