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Patriots running back: Who will be No. 1 option, who is in danger of being cut?

Ryan Hannable
July 23, 2018 - 11:25 am

Training camp is just a few days away and over the next several weeks a couple of positional battles will play out. One of the most competitive positions will be at running back with several players competing not only for a roster spot, but playing time as well.

New England lost Dion Lewis in the offseason, but gained Jeremy Hill and also rookie Sony Michel.

Here's a complete breakdown of the position with thoughts on each back.

James White

Believe it or not, White is the longest-tenured Patriot at the position (excluding Brandon Bolden). After being drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 draft out of Wisconsin, White has made a name for himself with his best moment coming in Super Bowl LI when he had the game-winning touchdown in overtime. He's more of a pass catcher than an in between the tackles back, but he fits the Patriots system perfectly. He's as close to a third-down back the team has had since Kevin Faulk.

Tom Brady has a great deal of trust in him and goes to him in the biggest of spots. White isn't an every down back by any means, but he has added the ability to run the ball to his game so the defense can't key in on a passing play every time he's on the field. White figures to get the most playing time of any back in the group, but more so as a receiver out of the backfield.

Rex Burkhead

Burkhead is going into his second season with the Patriots and having a full year in the system under his belt could serve him well. The former Bengal battled injuries a good amount of the year last year and it certainly impacted his performance. Some may forget the stretch he had in the middle of the year when he had five touchdowns in a four-game period. He also may be as close to a goal-line back as the team has, so keep an eye on him most when the Patriots are in the red zone.

He's not going to be an every down back, but he's the kind of player every successful team needs in their backfield.

Mike Gillislee

Gillislee's first season in New England didn't go as planned as he only played in nine games with a number of healthy inactives. The veteran is in danger of not making the team as with Hill and Michel added, the team cannot keep them all. The former Bill needs to have a good few weeks of training camp and produce in the preseason games to prove he's worth keeping around.

Brandon Bolden

Although he's primarily a special teams players, he's always managed to stick around, which shows he much he's valued by the coaching staff. Bolden has been a member of the team since 2012 and only has 216 carries to his name. It will likely be the same case again this year where he makes the team as one of the core special teamers, but has the ability to fill in at running back in a pinch. There is an outside chance he could be cut in order to keep the other running backs, but his special teams impact makes it hard to imagine.

Jeremy Hill

Although he was signed as a free agent, Hill is no lock to make the team. The former Bengal will need to prove himself over the next few weeks and especially in the preseason games. Hill played in just seven games last season, but as a rookie in 2014 he ran for 1,124 yards, so the talent is certainly there. He will be competing with Burkhead, Gillislee and Michel not only for carries, but just making the team.

Sony Michel

Although he hasn't played in a NFL game yet, don't be surprised if he's the lead back come the end of the season. Given he's just a rookie and the team has plenty of veterans around him, the Patriots could take it slow with him at the beginning and then once he's fully acclimated to the league could take off towards the end of the year. New England rarely selects running backs high in the draft, so clearly it sees a lot in him since he was selected in the first round. Not only can Michel run in between the tackles, but he's shown the ability to be a productive pass catcher as well.

We really like Michel and see him being a major contributor to the offense.

Ralph Webb

Webb doesn't really have much of a chance of making the team, but he will likely get a ton of action in the second half of preseason games when the Patriots have their third and fourth stringers on the field.

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