Damien Harris showed flashes of star potential last year, and a breakout season from him during the 2021 NFL season would be a major boost to the New England Patriots' chances of contending for a playoff berth in the AFC.
The former Alabama running back didn't play much as a rookie, appearing in only two games. His workload increased in 2020, when he played in 10 games and tallied 691 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He also averaged an impressive 5.0 yards per carry with his power-running style.
The upcoming season likely will see Harris get even more touches in the Patriots offense, and head coach Bill Belichick likes what he's observed of the young running back in minicamp this week.
"Damien works extremely hard," Belichick said Wednesday morning during his video conference call with reporters. "Works at all phases, all aspects of his game, certainly his conditioning and training, running game, passing game, protection, route running, catching the ball.
"He's a hard-working kid that just tries to do whatever he can to help the team and he's got a lot of skill and can contribute in a variety of ways and he's looking to improve and upgrade where he is in every area. So, Ivan (Fears) and Vinnie (Sunseri) have worked hard with Damien. He's responded well and I think he's off to a really good start in preparation for the season."
Harris will have plenty of competition for touches this season because the Patriots have a couple running backs capable of racking up yards.
Sony Michel is entering his fourth season with the Patriots and should have plenty of motivation after the team decided not to pick up the fifth-year option in his contract. James White returned to the Pats on a one-year deal and remains one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league. Rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who was a fourth-round pick in April's draft, also has exciting potential.
If Harris stays healthy for a full season, it wouldn't be surprising if he takes a leap into the top tier of running backs in 2021. He has the work ethic and talent to reach that level, and running behind what should be one of the league's best offensive lines will help him a lot as well.