Importance Of The 2022 Rookie Running Backs Finding Success

July 16, 2022
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Heading into the 2022 NFL draft, the New England Patriots had Damien Harris, who’s entering a contract year. Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, and J.J. Taylor flashed in the past. And then they had super bowl champion running back James ‘Sweet Feet’ White, who although is returning but the question was when. It was believed all the Patriots needed was a receiving back to be a security blanket in case White was a no-go. Bill Belichick drafted two running backs in the middle of the 2022 draft when the team had other needs. This means one of them has to pan out in 2022, and I’m going to explain why.

Harris Is in Contract Year

In the course of three seasons, Damien Harris has played in 27 regular seasons and one post-season game. As a committee back, he has averaged 60.4 yards a game. He is rushing for over 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns, 15 coming during the 2021 season. In 2021 Harris was also tenth in yards and 15th in average per carry.

His stats put him in the company of such backs as Derrick Henry, Melvin Gordon, James Conner, Johnathan Taylor, and Ezekiel Elliot, meaning if Harris has a good year, he will want a double-digit contract. So drafting two-backs makes sense, if the Patriots are going to consider shopping him like they did Sony Michel, but if not, then what?

J.J. Taylor Has Not Shown Much.

In 2020 Taylor was a sparkplug for the Patriots early in the season. He averaged over four and a half yards a carry and had Ivan Fears singing his praise.

Fears said in Sept. 2021, “As a runner, this son-of-a-gun, I’ll tell you what: He’s gonna cause some people some problems. He’s little as s—, and people kind of find it hard to find his butt. When he goes to the line, they can’t find him…”

“He’s made some great strides in the passing game. He’s a hell of a lot more productive as a route runner, whether we can catch him or coming out of the backfield.”

https://www.nbcsports.com/boston/patriots/ivan-fears-has-great-description-patriots-rb-jj-taylor

However, that was pretty much it for Taylor, and in 2021 when they needed him to step up, Brandon Bolden outperformed him and stole his role. The biggest concern with Taylor, which has limited him, is his ability to pass block. Taylor is only maybe five-foot-six-inches if we are being nice. Pass rushers eat him for breakfast, making him more of a liability than a weapon.

Ty Montgomery Has Not Been Relevant In Years.

The Patriots signed Ty Montgomery to a contract in March. Montgomery is on his fifth team since entering the league and, over the last three seasons combined, has only 460 total yards from scrimmage on offense. Furthermore, he’s not even known as a back but a receiver that can line up in the backfield.

Bernd Buchmasser said, “The Patriots are therefore getting plenty of versatility, reminiscent of what they had with Cordarrelle Patterson in 2018.”

https://www.patspulpit.com/2022/3/17/22983348/2022-nfl-free-agency-analysis-signing-ty-montgomery-means-patriots

Questions Still With White.

James White is a fan favorite and one of the most reliable running backs the Patriots have had for quite a while. White is a security blanket in the passing game and usually is good for over 400 receiving when healthy. And in 2018, he showed he was more than just a pass catcher, running for over 400 yards in under a hundred attempts. Not to mention that he knows how to protect the quarterback.

Against the New Orleans Saints in week three of the season 2021, White suffered a subluxation of the hip that ended his season. White admitted to media members that he was still struggling with things “three to four” months later. White was limited at both organized team workouts and minicamp. There’s a good chance White could start the season on injured reserve or pup.

The Two Rookies Are Not Known For The Receiving Abilities.

Pierre Strong Jr USA Today

Pierre Strong Jr, the first of the two running backs drafted, may have been one of the fastest players drafted, but He’s not known as a receiving back. In 48 games in college, he had less than 60 receptions and under 600 yards. And his pass protection needs development.

The Draft Network said, “Passing Down Skills: He doesn’t have a lot of production in the passing game. However, he shows the ability to catch check-downs and be a threat in space. However, pass pro will be something to monitor in the NFL.”

https://thedraftnetwork.com/sr-prospect/pierre-strong-jr-04f13462-6cb3-40d5-81fe-9bcc6dc8bd13/

The Patriots’ other rookie running back, Kevin Harris, is a power back and has even less production as a receiving back. In 28 games, he caught less than 40 passes and averaged ten receiving yards a game. And his pass blocking is an even bigger unknown.

The Draft Network said, “Passing Down Skills: Harris has a lot to prove in this area. He didn’t get many reps in pass protection and was an afterthought as a receiver. He mostly ran arrow routes and flat routes and he has seven career drops on 48 catchable targets.”

https://thedraftnetwork.com/sr-prospect/kevin-harris-1b8190a2-1ae7-4e9f-b57e-215081af374e/

The Pressure Is On Belichick

Bill Belichick needed a pass-catching back. So he filled the spot with a veteran that is a practice squad guy at this point of his career in Montgomery and two rookies that seem more to replace Harris than they are to help in the passing game. When Robert Kraft spent the money in 2021, he was not happy about how the Patriots had been drafting or developing players, and he let it be known.

Kraft said, “If you want to have a good, consistent winning football team, you can’t do it in free agency. You have to do it through the draft because that’s when you’re able to get people of great talent…”

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/03/31/sports/robert-kraft-shared-his-take-patriots-free-agent-spending-quarterbacks-recent-drafts/

Kraft would continue, “Really, the teams who draft well are the ones who will be consistently good. I don’t feel like we’ve done the greatest job the last few years and I really hope and believe I’ve seen a different approach this year. In the end, it all comes down to what happens on the field and how people execute and you really don’t know how good a draft is for at least two years.”

https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2021/03/31/robert-kraft-acknowledges-new-englands-recent-draft-failures/

There was a loud and clear message to the coaching staff at the end. I’m not saying Belichick’s coaching job is in jeopardy, but he may lose the final say over team building if one of these two rookie running backs does not pan out in the passing game.

Then again, James White, J.J. Taylor, or Ty Montgomery could shock us all, and one could have a solid season as the Patriots pass-catching back from week one on. It’s improbable but not impossible.

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