LeGarrette Blount is a candidate to return to the Patriots in 2017. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)
No matter what people say, Rex Burkhead should not be the Patriots’ lead back in 2017.
Sure, he had a great final two weeks last season when because of injuries he was forced into a starting role with the Bengals, but it was just two weeks. In those two games, he ran for 161 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries, but that was really the extent of him ever being a lead back.
Over the first 35 games of his career, he had just 19 carries. This is a sign he just doesn’t have the skill set to be used as a lead running back. He was one of the Bengals’ best special teams players last season, which is what he is — a core special teams player that can play running back in a pinch. A perfect upgrade to Brandon Bolden.
Standing 5-foot-10, 204 pounds, he’s not the LeGarrette Blount-type back the Patriots had last season. Acknowledging some of Blount’s 18 touchdowns were a product of short yardage situations and great blocking up front, a physical running back can wear down defenses and the Patriots need that element in their offense.
Here are some running backs available via free agency that fit what the Patriots need. (New England could also use one of its top picks on a running back, but that doesn’t seem likely.)
LeGarrette Blount — Blount hasn’t been signed as an unrestricted free agent, nor visited with any teams, so maybe the interest isn’t there across the league. The 30-year-old is the perfect fit for the Patriots offense, as shown last season, and has a great relationship with the organization and Bill Belichick. The one knock on Blount is ball security, displayed when he fumbled in Super Bowl LI. If Blount remains available, and would accept a one-year deal around $1 million, it would be a surprise to see him not return to New England.
Karlos Williams — This would be taking a risk as he’s been suspended twice by the league for violating the substance-abuse policy, but he is eligible to play Week 1 in 2017. Williams was selected by the Bills in the fifth round of the 2015 draft out of Florida State and had a fairly successful rookie season. He totaled 517 yards and seven touchdowns on 93 carries. Standing 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, he is the bigger back the Patriots need, and although he wouldn’t cost much, it would be a big risk given his off-field issues. Although this didn’t stop them from taking a chance on Blount.
Adrian Peterson — This seems like a long-shot, but if the Patriots could get him to play for say less than $5 million, why not take the chance? The team has the cap space to do it and Belichick has been known to take chances on players. Peterson has battled injuries of late, but over the course of his career the 32-year-old has had seven seasons of rushing for more than 1,000 yards. With the Patriots he would play strictly on first and second down, which could be good to keep him fresh. He also reportedly wants to play for a Super Bowl contender, which the Patriots obviously are.