The New England Patriots overcame a 2-4 start to the 2021 NFL season, to finish with a 10-7 record and earn a playoff spot after a year-long absence. Still, the Pats face many questions as they head into the 2022 season. Despite a seven-game winning streak, which briefly lifted New England to first place in the conference, a late-season slide season caused a drop in the standings. The Pats’ season ended miserably on Wild Card weekend with a 47-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
As New England begins the process of building its roster for the upcoming season, there are many areas where the Patriots will look to improve. The Pats will take stock of their performance in all three phases by reviewing each position group and evaluating their performance.
One of the Pats’ most prominent positions last season was running back.
Here’s a look at the key players in the position, along with three potential free agent targets outside the organization.
Damien Harris has clearly established himself as the star of New England in 2021. He finished the season tied for second in the league with 15 rushing touchdowns. Despite some early ball safety issues, Harris built up his confidence and experience, running for both power and finesse. When given the room to maneuver, the Alabama product is capable of breaking over a significant distance. He can also be a factor when receiving out of the backfield, a trait he showed during his Alabama days. If the Pats decided to take the job in free agency, it would likely be at the reserve level or pursue a third specialist. Harris will continue to be the Pats’ main option at this position, and rightly so.
As a rookie, Stevenson has proven to be a valuable contributor, both now and in the future, rushing for 606 yards and five touchdowns. Despite the Patriots penchant for slowly developing their rookie running backs, the former Oklahoma Sooner has become a factor in New England’s offense in 2021. Listed at 6’0″ 230 pounds, he’s a physical runner and powerful; yet he’s athletic enough to miss short-range tackles in situational runs. The 24-year-old combines power and athleticism well in his running style. After a costly fumble in Week 1 against the Dolphins of Miami, he has displayed a marked improvement in his ball safety. Stevenson also has the intangibles to be an effective option for receiving out of the backfield. He has compiled 123 receiving yards, on 14 receptions. Still, the prowess from Stevenson continue to be evident on the field, whether it’s being able to dodge his way into the end zone or show his speed by breaking for a touchdown run the 91-year-old clearly has the skill set to be a big part of the Patriots’ future in this position.
Although a bit underutilized in 2021, Taylor remains a solid option for the Pats as a backup rusher. The 24-year-old rushed for 37 yards on 19 carries, earning two touchdowns. His ability to receive out of the backfield should provide additional help on third down attempts. However, Taylor is able to shake things up on early downs. When he’s at his best, the former Arizona Wildcat has the flexibility and skill to be the “change of pace” for the team. In this regard, its size is more of a help than a hindrance to playing this role. Taylor is quite effective between tackles and can contribute as a pass receiver out of the backfield. Although a spot on the 2022 roster is far from guaranteed, he will remain in the mix as the team heads into training camp.
After signing a one-year contract to return to the Patriots in the 2021 offseason, While had his season cut short after suffering a hip subluxation in the team’s Week 3 loss to the Saints. New Orleans. Prior to his injury, the Pats’ team captain had been one of their most reliable offensive players. White was actually the Patriots’ leading wide receiver in Week 2, catching six passes on six targets for 45 yards. He also ran five times for 20 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, White had become a favorite target for quarterback Mac Jones. His dual-threat abilities (both as a receiver and a runner) proved difficult to replicate. White’s potential return to New England will largely depend on his health. However, if the two sides can agree on a low-risk deal, it wouldn’t be surprising to see James White back in Foxboro for one more round.
After losing James White for the season to a hip injury, running back Brandon Bolden performed quite well in the third down role. Bolden set career highs in receptions and receiving yards. In fourteen games, the 32-year-old racked up 226 yards on 44 carries with a touchdown. He was also a real force in receiving out of the backfield, with 41 catches for 405 yards and two touchdowns. With Harris often deployed in early forfeits, the Pats typically turned to Bolden on third down isolating him on the opposing team’s linebackers. As a result, Jones will rely heavily on his experience and versatility, both on the court and as a situational wide receiver. After his standout performance in 2021, Bolden should have suitors in the open market. However, his prowess as a running back, as well as his expertise and experience on special teams should mean the Pats are doing their due diligence in trying to retain his services in 2022.
Three potential pats:
Williams enjoyed a career year with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021, establishing himself as the team’s leading running back. The 26-year-old finished the season with 558 rushing yards on 144 attempts with six touchdowns. He was also effective in the passing game, compiling 452 receiving yards on 47 catches and two touchdowns. While Williams’ abilities as an early runner between tackles could earn him a New England look, his passing game prowess may make him a free agent target.
Booker has the skills to be effective in both the passing game and the running game. As a member of the New York Giants in 2021, Booker rushed for 593 yards and two rushing touchdowns. From the backfield, he caught 40 passes for 268 yards and a touchdown reception. With former Giants head coach Joe Judge back in Foxboro’s fold, Booker could be an attractive depth option in the position. More importantly, the 29-year-old might be willing to sign a reasonable contract.
Although he has yet to recreate the prowess he displayed as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Breida still possesses the dual threat abilities that could make him an effective player in the Nova Scotia system. England. Having spent the previous two seasons with the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills respectively, the 27-year-old knows the AFC East well. Breida has both the speed and the pass-catching abilities to get the Patriots attention. After a statistically below-par season, he could be mistaken for a team-friendly deal.