The first step is admitting you have a problem.
The New England Patriots have taken steps toward admitting they have a problem at running back this offseason; first with the signing of former San Diego Chargers running back Donald Brown, and now with their reported reunion with running back LeGarrette Blount.
But admitting you have a problem isn’t enough; despite calling in reinforcements, the Patriots still have unanswered issues at the running back position. Their biggest issue is that their backfield is currently a mix of players who have either never been featured in an offense, are coming off an injury, or both.
Blount has been featured in the Patriots offense and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but is coming off a season-ending hip injury. Brown had been effective in a complementary role with the Indianapolis Colts for the first five years of his career, but he dealt with a concussion in 2014 and was on-and-off the active roster in 2015 in a minimal role.
Dion Lewis is recovering from a torn ACL and subsequent surgery, but Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald reported in January that Lewis was on pace to be ready for training camp. Whether or not he’ll be 100 percent, we won’t know until we see him on the field. The same goes for Blount in his recovery.
Besides that, Lewis has never been featured in a major role on offense until last season. Can he stand the test of time? The same question can be asked of running back James White, who stepped in for Lewis when the young scat back was injured midseason; and also of Brandon Bolden, who has had his moments on offense, but has never been asked to sustain those flashes of brilliance.
The Patriots have more pass-catching backs than true bell-cow ball-carriers. Lewis and White are more the former, Blount is more the latter. Brown falls somewhere in the middle; he isn’t big enough to be a between-the-tackles hammer, and he isn’t fast enough to be a dynamic receiver out of the backfield.
Even with the return of Blount, the Patriots could use another pure runner. Kenneth Dixon (Louisiana Tech), Kenyon Drake (Alabama), and C.J. Prosise (Notre Dame) fit the bill as potential Patriots targets with the toughness to run between the tackles and the versatility to contribute in the passing game as receivers and/or in blitz protection.
Would the Patriots be doomed if they entered the 2016 regular season with their current crop of running backs? Probably not. They’ve gotten by without a running game in the past — they ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing each of the past two years and three out of the past five years. That being said, would they be wise to reinforce the depth chart? Absolutely. The running game went into the tank last year as the injuries piled up.
The Patriots still need depth at several positions (offensive tackle, cornerback, defensive tackle, linebacker), but running back is one position where an incoming rookie could compete for a major role.
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