Dion Lewis was an offensive revelation for the Patriots in 2015. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today)
As the countdown to training camp begins later this month, we’re going to take a look at the 20 most important members of the Patriots heading into 2016.
8. Running back Dion Lewis
Weight: 195 pounds
Age: 25 (will turn 26 on Sept. 27)
Resume: A fifth-round pick out of Pitt by the Eagles in 2011, a combination of health issues and poor coaching decisions left him struggling to find a full-time job over his first few seasons. (Prior to his arrival in New England last year, his best season was likely 2011, when he rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown for Philly.) A knee injury left him on the shelf for the better part of 2013 and 2014, but when the Browns eventually gave up on him last offseason, the Patriots reached out to the free agent. (Thanks Mike Lombardi!) In seven games last year, Lewis was an offensive revelation, rushing for 234 yards on 49 carries and two touchdowns, while catching 36 passes for 388 yards and two touchdowns and revealing himself to be a truly dynamic playmaker. He went down with a season-ending knee injury in a November win over the Redskins, but there’s apparently reason to be optimistic about his situation heading into 2016.
Why we ranked him here: We were cautious about putting Lewis in our top 10 “most important” for 2016 — after all, a seven-game track record is a bit thin. But when you consider his electrifying presence in the New England backfield last year and how much the third-down game struggled after he was shelved for 2015, this feels appropriate. (If he had played all 16 games, you could make an argument to rank him even higher.) The Patriots have a few similar body types who might be able to step in as needed if Lewis goes down again for an extended stretch, or if he’s not able to start the year at 100 percent because of last year’s knee injury. But none will be able to bring the sort of elusiveness, speed and sure hands out of the backfield that Lewis is capable of delivering.
Quote: “I think the first thought was ‘Wow, where did you come from?’ He’s doing his thing. I can’t believe that he looks similar; he does a lot of the same things [as me]. Coming back from the injury, he’s already been a part of this situation already before, so I think for him to look to anybody else I think that would be the wrong thing because you have insight on it already so I think he’s going to be all right. I think he’s done a lot of great things already this offseason to get his health back to the form where he knows he can perform at the NFL level, but he’s an outstanding kid when you talk to him and understand who he is and where he’s come from. You understand that he still has a lot to offer.” —Pats Hall of Famer Kevin Faulk on his thoughts watching Lewis last year and what advice he’d give him as he attempts to return from injury
Random note: Per Ryan Hannable, when Lewis was on the field last season prior to his knee injury, the Patriots averaged 6.47 yards per play. In that same stretch, when Lewis wasn’t on the field, the Patriots averaged 5.25 yards per play — more than a full yard difference.