The Patriots may have their "big back" for 2017 and beyond by Monday if the Bills decide not to match the offer sheet Mike Gillislee received from New England. Maybe Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio feel as though Rex Burkhead can handle that role. Who knows? Maybe they end up bringing back LeGarrette Blount and use him as their between-the-tackles hammer.
PHIL PERRY'S PROTOTYPICAL PATRIOTS DRAFT PREVIEW
- DEFENSIVE ENDS: Basham's power, effort would fit on the edge
- DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Look to the SEC
- CORNERS: Griffin's athleticism makes him intriguing
- SAFETIES: Sure tacklers from Florida, Michigan look like fits
- LINEBACKERS: McMillan, Anzalone make sense
- SLOT CORNER: King's agility, toughness, seem ideal
- MOCK DRAFT: Version 1.0 and 2.0
However it shakes out, it's looking less and less like the Patriots will need to draft a big body to serve as their bruiser on first and second down. But at the moment there is enough uncertainty at that position that it's worth rolling through the series of names who fit what the Patriots typically like in their early-down runners.
Having the size to withstand the punishment associated with that role is obviously crucial. Drafting someone who looks like Blount (6-feet, 250 pounds) won't happen this year, but the Patriots have manned that spot with smaller players in the past. Stevan Ridley (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) are some of the more recent examples of Patriots "big backs" who weren't exactly built like tanks yet were entrusted with that job.
Athleticism helps, too. Backs that size who can run a 40-yard dash in the 4.6-second range with a three-cone drill time of under seven seconds and a broad jump of about 10 feet? They're not your run-of-the-mill plodders, and would be intriguing fits in the Patriots offense.
D'Onta Foreman, Texas, 6-feet, 234 pounds: Perhaps the best combination of size and athleticism that this class of running backs has to offer, Foreman ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at his pro day. According to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, who has combine data going back to 2003, no running back weighing 232 pounds or more has ever run a 40 that quickly. He also recorded a 33-inch vertical and a 10-foot broad jump. Foreman fumbled seven times in 323 carries during his 2,000-yard season for the Longhorns, a number that might force the Patriots to look elsewhere if they're in the big-back market, but after the season he claimed he played with a broken hand that impacted his ability to secure the football.
Kareem Hunt, Toledo, 5-foot-10, 216 pounds: Another eye-opening combination of power and explosiveness, Hunt ran a 4.62 40-yard dash in Indy, jumped 36.5 inches in the vertical (fifth-best among backs at the combine) and 119 inches in the broad jump. He ran for 1,475 yards and 10 scores last season while proving he has some value as a receiver out of the backfield as well with 41 grabs for 403 yards and a touchdown. Always falling forward, Hunt may not be quite as imposing as past Patriots early-down backs, but he plays bigger than his size.
Brian Hill, Wyoming, 6-foot-1, 219 pounds: A first-team All-Mountain West selection after running for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns last season, Hill stood out among running backs from bigger programs at this year's combine. He finished the week in Indy with a 4.54-second 40-yard dash, a 10-foot-5 broad jump, a 7.03-second three-cone drill, and his 11.29-second 60-yard shuttle time was second only to Christian McCaffrey who measured two inches shorter and almost 20 pounds lighter. He may require a Day 2 selection, but if the Patriots are still without a true big-back on the roster going into the draft, Hill could be the pile-mover they're looking for.
Wayne Gallman, Clemson, 6-feet, 215 pounds: The lightest player on this list, Gallman still runs as hard as any of them. His 4.6-second 40, 120-inch broad jump and 4.28-second 20-yard shuttle could be enticing for the Patriots. He was a first-team All-ACC player in 2015 after rushing for 1,527 yards. Last season he ran for more than 500 fewer yards but saw 87 fewer carries and still set a career-high for scores with 15.
James Conner, Pitt, 6-foot-1, 233 pounds: Conner's athleticism (4.65-second 40-yard dash, 29-inch vertical, 113-inch broad jump, 7.41-second three-cone) doesn't quite stand up to the thresholds the Patriots have for their backs, but his frame, his hard-charging style and mental toughness may earn him a look in the later rounds. He overcame Hodgkin's lymphoma to rush for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Prior to his illness, he was named ACC Player of the Year in 2014 when he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns.