FOXBORO -- Rex Burkhead gambled on himself last offseason, accepting a one-year deal to join James White and Dion Lewis in a talented Patriots backfield that quickly became even more crowded when Mike Gillislee was signed as a restricted free agent. The results have been mixed.
Burkhead has proven to be an easy fit in an offense that has benefited from his varied skill set, but staying on the field has been an issue. He played in 10 regular-season games, and his workload in terms of snaps was about half of what both Lewis and White were given.
In 195 plays Burkhead took 64 hand-offs and was targeted in the passing game 36 times, meaning on more than 50 percent of his snaps played he was the focal point of the play. On the one hand, he's proven to be more than a reserve runner and special-teamer, which was his role in Cincinnati for the first four years of his career. But on the other, his durability has come into question after dealing with a rib injury that kept him out a month early in the season and a knee injury that forced him to miss the final two games of the year.
How teams will be willing to spend on Burkhead as a free agent this upcoming offseason will be fascinating to track, but the Patriots are just hoping to have him available this weekend against the Titans. He's been limited in recent practices, but he showed some optimism on Wednesday.
"I'm just excited . . . After the injury, you never know what is going to happen so that's always in the back of your head," he said. "But when you get good news, it helps you to look forward to these games a little better."
If the Patriots could get Burkhead on the field -- giving them a full complement of pass-catching backs with Lewis and White, who is expected to play after missing the final two weeks of the season with an injured ankle -- he could be particularly useful against Tennessee.
The Titans are one of the better run defenses in the NFL, limiting opponents to 3.45 yards rushing in their last eight games. But in the passing game, Tennessee is statistically the NFL's most generous defense when it comes to covering backs. According to Football Outsiders, the Titans are allowing a league-high 58.3 yards per game to pass-catching running backs on 8.7 targets.