Could McKinnon fill the Lewis role for Patriots?

Could McKinnon fill the Lewis role for Patriots?

Before free-agency kicks off with the start of the new league year on March 14, we're answering a series of questions the Patriots could be asking themselves. On Wednesday, we hit on tight end and if Jimmy Graham is a fit. On Thursday, we asked if Super Bowl champ Nigel Bradham is just the linebacker the Patriots need. Today, we're looking whether there are any viable running back options for the Patriots on the open market? 

Dion Lewis played it perfectly. He stayed healthy for the first time in his career and had the best season of his career in a contract year. Had the Patriots opted to use him as their No. 1 back through the first month of the 2017 season - a job that was handled by Mike Gillislee - Lewis could have hit free agency with even better numbers. 

Now, the Patriots have to be prepared to take on 2018 without their dynamic dual-threat back. They could also find themselves without fellow all-purpose runner Rex Burkhead, who is also scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency next week. 

The Patriots still have Gillislee under contract. They have James White and Brandon Bolden under contract as well. But those backs don't provide what Lewis provided consistently, what Burkhead provided when healthy last season: unpredictability. 

With Lewis on the field, the Patriots could run or pass. They could align in the I-formation, then split all parties out wide and still strike fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators.

This begs the question, if Lewis and Burkhead are gone, how would the Patriots go about filling that multi-purpose void? The free agent market will boast a good-but-not-great group of backs.

With Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell playing on the franchise tag, San Francisco's Carlos Hyde is the best of the bunch. Frank Gore won't be retained by the Colts, but he wants to keep playing. DeMarco Murray ran into a similar situation in Tennessee, where he was let go in favor of younger options. Doug Martin, Jonathan Stewart, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles and Isaiah Crowell are also available.

The most intriguing fit, though, might be Jerick Mckinnon of the Vikings. He helped form a committee backfield in Minnesota in his first four seasons, but the 25-year-old has proven to be an effective receiver out of the backfield (51 catches in 2017), improved in pass-protection, and a capable runner when given the opportunity. 

McKinnon averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 2017, but Pro Football Focus gave him the sixth-best overall grade of any running back last season. He forced 30 missed tackles, which was more than Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara (28), and his average yards after contact per carry (2.6) was the same as Bell's.

Because of the timeshare he dealt with as a member of the Vikings, and because his numbers aren't exactly eye-popping, McKinnon shouldn't command a huge contract. A deal in line with what White received from the Patriots last offseason -- three years at $4 million -- would seem reasonable. 

Would the Patriots be willing to go there? 

The answer will depend on how highly they value McKinnon's tape. This is thought to be a draft class deep with running backs, and so perhaps Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio feel as though they can find their next all-purpose runner somewhere in the middle rounds. Or perhaps they'd be happy bringing back Burkhead and hoping he stays healthy. 

Because the Patriots may have to stretch in order to find the money to pay a left tackle, a corner, a pass-rusher and provide their All-Pro tight end with a raise... going with a cost-effective option in the draft and re-signing Burkhead on another short-term deal might be their best bet. Even if an enticing talent like McKinnon won't exactly break the bank. 



Celtics' Enes Kanter is 'very big fan' of Patriots QB Tom Brady, wants to meet him

Celtics' Enes Kanter is 'very big fan' of Patriots QB Tom Brady, wants to meet him

New Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter, like many NFL fans around the world, is in awe of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Kanter officially signed his contract with the Celtics on Wednesday, shortly before he and point guard Kemba Walker had their introductory press conference at the Auerbach Center.

In a separate scrum with reporters, Kanter admitted he's a huge fan of the six-time Super Bowl champion.

“I’m actually a very big fan of Tom Brady," Kanter said. "I actually want to meet him. I was going to say it at the press conference, but I was thinking should I do it or not? I’m definitely a big fan. I would love to meet him. What he does on and off the (field) is amazing. Not just football, but for sports. If he’s listening right now, I want to meet you, my man.”

Brady should be back in the Boston area soon because the Patriots begin training camp next week at Gillette Stadium. Perhaps these two Boston athletes can find a time to meet up in the near future, just not on Kanter's cheat day.

Kanter trolls Kyrie Irving with hilarious jersey comment>>>

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Great Patriots Debate: Who was the most disappointing draft pick in team history?

Great Patriots Debate: Who was the most disappointing draft pick in team history?

Today's Great Patriots Debate had several different working titles before we settled on the word "disappointing."

If we simply went with "worst" pick, we'd be robbed of discussing all the what-if scenarios presented by players who suffered injuries during their pro careers and never panned out. 

If we went with "biggest whiff," we'd run into the same issue. Hard to fault anyone for what happened to Robert Edwards (except maybe the NFL for holding a flag football game in the sand during Pro Bowl week) or to point fingers at anyone for Ras-I Dowling's inability to stay healthy (though he entered the league with some health concerns). 

If we stick with biggest disappointments, we can lump together every high-end pick that didn't pan out — for whatever reason. Were they injured prior to their pro careers and stayed that way? Injured after the fact, providing the Patriots with nary a highlight? Could they simply... not play? 

Let's pose the question to you before laying out some of the options: If you were to peg one player, who would you choose as the most disappointing draft pick in franchise history?

Your answer will depend largely on when you were born. If you're old enough to remember the Patriots taking receiver Tom Reynolds with the No. 49 overall pick in 1972 and then saw him get just eight touches as a rookie before moving on to the Bears, that might rank right up there for you. Same could be said for 1974 second-rounder Steve Corbett, who played just 14 games after going No. 30 overall (four picks ahead of Patriots Hall of Famer Steve Nelson).

There was no shortage of draft-day letdowns in the 1980s, either. Running back Vagas Ferguson went No. 25 overall in 1980 and scored just five times in essentially two seasons. Running back Robert Weathers did less than that as the No. 40 overall choice — taken one spot before Hall of Famer Andre Tippett — two years later. Receiver Darryal Wilson (second-rounder, 1983), nose tackle Mike Ruth (second, 1986) and Reggie Dupard (first, 1986) certainly didn't help the Patriots build up any foundation upon which to construct a contender. Hart Lee Dykes, an explosive athlete taken with the No. 16 overall pick in 1989, suffered a series of injuries (including an eye injury in a fight outside a club in 1990) that eventually cost him his career.

Then came the Pete Carroll era with drafts headed up by Bobby Grier. Corner Chris Canty has an argument as one of the worst picks in franchise history, providing very little after being made the No. 29 overall selection in 1997. He was gone by 1999 and out of the league by the end of the 2000 season.

The team struck gold in the first round with Edwards in 1998 until he was injured, then it missed on a pair of second-rounders in the same class: receiver Tony Simmons and tight end Rod Rutledge. Andy Katzenmoyer (No. 28 overall) was part of a two-pronged first-round for New England the following year — Damien Woody went No. 17 — but he suffered a neck injury and walked away from the game in 2001. What looked like a player who might help redefine the linebacker position for the Patriots ended up playing just 24 career games. 

Bill Belichick, like any longtime personnel chief, has certainly had misses in the draft over the course of his two decades in Foxboro. The second round has been where he's taken his biggest swings, hitting on the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Sebastian Vollmer. But he's also gotten little-to-no production from second-rounders like Bethel Johnson (2003), Terrence Wheatley (2008), Dowling (2011), Aaron Dobson (2013), Jordan Richards (2015) or Cyrus Jones (2016), who suffered a torn ACL before the start of his sophomore season. Arguably the worst of the bunch was one of Belichick's highest second-round choices, wide receiver Chad Jackson (No. 36 overall, 2006). 

The first round has seen Belichick get at the very least solid returns out of almost every pick, with the exception of Dominique Easley. Like many of Belichick's second-round dice-rolls, the No. 29 choice in 2014 pick was a gamble. Easley came into the NFL with a history of significant knee injuries and could not stay healthy during his time in New England. He was released less than two years after he was drafted.

If I had to narrow it down — based on what was expected of the players at the time they were selected and what they ended up contributing — I'd say Canty, Katzenmoyer, Jackson and Easley all deserve to be considered right near the top of this list. And that's not even considering which players were drafted after those guys. 

Jason Taylor, the Barber twins and Sam Madison came after Canty; five-time Pro Bowler Al Wilson and Joey Porter were taken after Katzenmoyer; Greg Jennings, Andrew Whitworth and Maurice Jones-Drew followed Jackson; Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams, Stephon Tuitt, DeMarcus Lawrence and Kyle Van Noy were selected after Easley.

But again, my choices might be different than yours because of when I was born. Can't help it. Be sure to make the case for your biggest disappointment on our Facebook page or in our Twitter poll that can be found @philaperry. 

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