Patriots roster reset: Is RB Sony Michel THE guy or just a guy?

Andy Hart
June 02, 2020 - 12:15 pm
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Over the next few weeks, as we crawl closer to the hopeful opening of Patriots training camp later this summer, WEEI.com will take a position-by-position look at the New England roster following an eventful offseason of comings and goings.

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Running back

Roster: Sony Michel (3rd year), James White (7th), Rex Burkhead (8th), Damien Harris (2nd), Brandon Bolden (9th), FB Jakob Johnson (2nd), FB Dan Vitale (5th), J.J. Taylor (rookie)

Key Additions: FB Dan Vitale (FA/Packers)

Key Losses: FB James Develin (retired)

Projected Starter: Sony Michel

Biggest Question: In his third season, can former first-round pick Sony Michel prove he’s capable of making plays to help carry a bigger share of the load in New England’s new-look, post-Tom Brady offense?

Key Stat: 3.7 – Sony Michel’s yards-per-carry average a year ago on 247 attempts, tied for the lowest in the NFL among those with at least 800 yards rushing.

Overview: On one hand, the Patriots have one of the deeper, more experienced and versatile running back depth charts in the NFL. On the other, New England may lack the workhorse leading rusher that could be key for a team that saw its GOAT quarterback and passing-game leader leave town this offseason. Two years removed from an impressive rookie postseason run with 336 yards and six touchdowns on the way to a Super Bowl ring, Michel is coming off a dismally disappointing sophomore season. While line play was an issue, Michel never showed the ability to make plays or get more than was blocked for him last fall, attributes that should be expected from a first-round running back. Michel is at a career crossroads in his third season as it’s time to prove he is either THE guy to carry the load in the New England backfield or, as Bill Parcells might say, a JAG – just a guy? If Michel isn’t up to the task, the second-year former third-round pick Harris should finally get his chance after seeing the field for just five plays, four carries and two games during what was essentially a red-shirt rookie season spent as a healthy scratch. A former two-time 1,000-yard rusher for Alabama, Harris deserves a chance to actually prove himself this fall, regardless of what Michel does. The rest of the depth chart is filled out with veterans who are what they are at this point. White is among the best pass catchers and screen backs in the game, though not a huge threat running the ball. Burkhead is the most versatile of the group, skilled and productive as both a runner and receiver, though he struggles to stay healthy and stay on the field. Bolden is a special teamer with backup abilities, though his contributions generally diminish as the opportunities increase. The biggest change at running back is the loss of the Pro Bowl fullback Develin, forced to retire due to injury after missing most of last season on IR. Johnson returns from IR himself to battle the newcomer Vitale, who brings a little more versatility and athleticism to the position, but will have to prove he can be the devastating blocker that made Develin such a valuable, appreciated asset in Josh McDaniels’ offense. Really, though, the focus of the running back position will be on either Michel or Harris to prove they can be workhorse contributors for a team whose passing attack will be very much a work in progress at quarterback, tight end and wide receiver.

Power Rating (1-5): ***

Former Jets and Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum recently said that the Patriots have the best running back room in the NFL. That may be true based on the veteran depth at the position and White’s role as one of the best pass-catchers at the position in the NFL, but there are also significant questions as to whether Michel or anyone else can step up as the lead ball carrier, a role that could be leaned on even more in 2020.

Related: Patriots roster reset: Jarrett Stidham’s time to shine at QB