White set to take on Patriots 'sub back' role with Lewis out

White set to take on Patriots 'sub back' role with Lewis out

FOXBORO -- There is no replacing Dion Lewis. 

Through seven games last season he rushed for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and he caught 36 passes for 388 yards and two more scores. He caught 72 percent of the targets sent his way by Tom Brady. He forced a whopping 43 missed tackles on his 85 touches, and he picked up 3.3 yards after contact per play. Plus, he was a force in the red zone, where with 13 touches he churned out 85 yards -- an average of 6.54 yards per touch -- and four touchdowns.

There is no replacing Lewis, something the Patriots found out in 2015 when he tore his ACL in Week 9. But because Lewis will have to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list, they'll have to try. 

The most obvious and best-suited running back to fill the "sub back" role for the Patriots will be James White. The third-year player out of Wisconsin has had a strong training camp and preseason, showing good lateral movement and an ability to make defenders miss in space. He's also been one of the team's most sure-handed receivers. In two exhibition games he's caught three passes for 73 yards to go along with his 12 rushing yards on three carries. 

Last season, filling in for Lewis as the team's primary receiving back, White caught 40 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns. In the final seven games of the regular season, with an increased role, he reeled in 32 of those passes. 

While White is a capable receiver -- he earned the third-best receiving grade in the NFL last season from Pro Football Focus behind only Theo Riddick and Danny Woodhead -- he is not the dynamic option Lewis was in the running game. The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder averaged just 2.5 yards per carry last season, more than two yards fewer than what Lewis (4.8 yards per attempt) posted. 

Understanding that there isn't a single option who can provide the Patriots with what Lewis did last season, here is the rest of the Patriots picture at running back at the moment...

LeGarrette Blount (6-feet, 250 pounds): Blount opened eyes with his performance against the Bears last week. Showing good vision, an ability to change direction quickly and impressive power, he seemed to put to rest any questions as to who is considered the front-runner for "big back" carries in New England. Because Blount is not a factor in the passing game (18 receptions in the last three seasons), his role is not likely to change much with Lewis out, but he could potentially receive more work in the red zone where Lewis was so successful.

Brandon Bolden (5-11, 220): Primarily a special teamer over the course of his time in New England, Bolden has also been used as a versatile substitute in the running game. Because he's often active on game days for his kick-game contributions, and because he's a good athlete who has shown an ability to both run hard and be a dependable receiver, he's filled in both as a "big back" and as a "sub back" in emergency situations. Bolden has had trouble catching the football in training camp, however, and he lost a fumble to the Bears. 

Tyler Gaffney (6-0, 220): Gaffney appears to be Blount's biggest competition this summer. They have tied for the team lead in carries this preseason (20), and Gaffney has 95 yards rushing to Blount's 89. The third-year back out of Stanford's numbers are bloated by a 44-yard touchdown run he had against the Saints in the preseason opener, but it seems as though the team wants to give him a legitimate opportunity to show what he can do after missing the last two years injured. Gaffney seems to be a more trusted option in the passing game than Blount, as he has caught five passes for 18 yards in preseason action. If he's viewed as a dual-threat back, he could be a hybrid backup option that forces defenses to remain a little more honest.

Donald Brown (5-10, 205): The 29-year-old has had trouble staying on the field during training camp and has yet to participate in a preseason game. When healthy, Brown could potentially give the Patriots more as a between-the-tackles runner than White, and he could potentially give the Patriots more as a receiver than Blount. He had eight catches in nine games last season but caught 29 and 27 passes respectively in 2014 and 2013. Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Brown for his speed and his professionalism recently. 

DJ Foster (6-0, 195): The undrafted rookie out of Arizona State is an intriguing athlete who showed great quickness at this year's NFL Scouting Combine. Like Brown, however, he has had a difficult time staying healthy enough to participate in practice. If he can get on the field and perform in this week's preseason game with the Panthers, Foster -- who played receiver in his final collegiate season -- would be an interesting depth option.

Joey Iosefa (6-0, 245): Another true "big back" with a similar build to Blount, Iosefa earned a promotion to the active roster last season after spending time on the Patriots practice squad. With an offseason in the system under his belt, Iosefa knows his role. His role on the team may be dictated, though, by the availability of others at that spot. 

Second ex-Pats OT to make free-agent visit to Cowboys

Second ex-Pats OT to make free-agent visit to Cowboys

The Patriots, who lost left tackle Nate Solder to the Giants last week, have a couple of his possible replacements, Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle, reportedly making free-agent visits to the Dallas Cowboys.

The Fleming visit was reported Sunday. On Monday, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Waddle will be joining his former Patriots teammate in Dallas.

Replacing Solder is obviously a key part of the Patriots offseason and retaining Waddle or Fleming could figure into those plans. Waddle, who turns 27 in July, was signed from the Detroit Lions in 2016 and appeared in 12 games last year, starting four. Fleming, a fourth-round Pats pick from Stamford in 2014, turns 26 in September and also played in 12 games last season, starting six.


What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

What are the Patriots getting in Cordarrelle Patterson?

The Patriots have made a trade with the Raiders to acquire receiver and special teamer Cordarrelle Patterson, according to a source. The deal, first reported by Pardon My Take, is an interesting one because it lands Patterson with the team that passed on the opportunity to draft him back in 2013. 


Bill Belichick dealt the No. 29 overall pick to the Vikings that year in exchange for four selections, including a second-rounder and a third-rounder. The second-rounder became Jamie Collins, and the third became Logan Ryan. The Patriots also took Josh Boyce with a fourth they received in the trade, and the fourth pick (a seventh) was traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for LeGarrette Blount. The Vikings took Patterson. 

Patterson's career to this point has been a mixed bag. One of the top athletes in the 2013 draft, the Tennessee product never quite panned out as a go-to No. 1 receiver. He has not missed a game in five seasons, but he has never cracked 600 offensive snaps in a single season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has turned himself into more of a gadget receiver as well as one of the game's best special teamers. 

Here's what the Patriots are getting in Patterson . . . 

TOP-TIER SPECIAL TEAMER: Patterson has solidified himself as one of the NFL's best kick-returners. In five seasons, he's ranked as the top returner in terms of average yards per return three times. He's never been outside of the top 10 in the league in that category. Last year he was sixth in the NFL with a 28.3 yards per return average. Patterson has also become a highly-effective gunner on punt units, a role he thrived in once he embraced it, and he has kick coverage experience. Patterson has not been a punt-returner. He has just one punt return under his belt compared to 153 kick returns. Patterson has been named a First-Team All-Pro twice for his work in the kicking game. 

INCONSISTENT RECEIVER: Patterson has never been able to take his explosiveness and translate that into consistent production offensively. He's not thought of as a precise route-runner, and he has a reputation as a "body-catcher." Yet, because he's so dynamic with the ball in his hands, offenses in Oakland and Minnesota have found ways to get the ball in his hands. He'll align in the backfield, take reverses and catch screens just to try to get him the ball in space where he can let his natural abilities take over. If he gets a crease, he can create a chunk play in a blink. 

THE COST: Patterson is in the second year of a two-year deal he signed with the Raiders last offseason. He has a base salary of $3 million and a cap hit of $3.25 million. The Patriots will be sending a fifth-rounder to the Raiders and getting a sixth-rounder back. (As an aside . . . The Patriots have used one fifth-round pick in the last six drafts. It was spent on long-snapper Joe Cardona. Why are they constantly dealing fifths away? Inside the Pylon's Dave Archibald did an interesting piece on that topic about a year and a half ago. The gist is that a) there's a significant drop-off in your chances of finding a star in the fifth compared to the fourth, and b) the talent in the fifth round, by some metrics, hasn't proven to be all that different from the sixth or seventh rounds.) 

THE FIT: Patterson is a relatively low-risk acquisition because of his cap hit (which on the Patriots slots him in between Shea McClellin and Chris Hogan) and because of the draft capital required to nab him. Trading for a player like Patterson as opposed to signing another team's free agent has the added benefit of not impacting the compensatory-pick formula. Patterson also fills a few needs. His abilities as a kick-returner will be more than suitable with last year's primary kick returner for the Patriots, Dion Lewis, out of the mix. What Patterson can do as a gunner and in kick coverage will also be useful with Johnson Bademosi now elsewhere. There's also a chance Matthew Slater plays in a different city in 2017, in which case Patterson's contributions as a gunner and in kick coverage could be critical. With Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman and Hogan all established in the Patriots offense, Patterson won't be expected to take on a heavy role in the Patriots offense. However, if he can pick up a new system, perhaps he could take on a role as a No. 4 or 5 wideout who benefits from plays designed to get him touches in space. Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt -- now alongside Patterson -- will all be competing for time in New England's offense. Former Patriots coaching assistant Mike Lombardi seems to believe it's unlikely Patterson contributes offensively