If Patriots lose dual-threat backs, Miami's Walton an interesting fit

If Patriots lose dual-threat backs, Miami's Walton an interesting fit

The Patriots will have a choice in front of them soon: Hold onto one of their most dynamic offensive playmakers by paying market price, or move on and take a less expensive shot on someone in free agency or the draft. 

The player in question is Dion Lewis. The position Lewis plays helps complicate the discussion.

Shelling out big money for running backs simply hasn't been a part of Bill Belichick's team-building philosophy in recent years, and if that trend continues, there's a chance Lewis is moving on. Then what? 

Rex Burkhead is a free agent as well. He should command less than Lewis after an injury-riddled 2017, but there's no guarantee he'll be back. Once the new league year begins, options on the open market could include Minnesota's Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco's Carlos Hyde and Miami's Damien Williams. 

If the Patriots were interested in the free-agent market at the position, there will be limits on the lengths they'd be willing to go. James White received a three-year $12 million deal last offseason. Burkhead received a one-year $3.15 million deal. Mike Gillislee picked up a two-year, $6.4 million deal as a restricted free agent.

Given the variance in production the Patriots saw from those players, one would understand if they were wary dishing out significant cash for another player at that spot -- particularly with other spots on the roster that need addressing. 

The most cost-effective way to go about re-stocking the position would likely be through the draft. And after a few days in Indianapolis for this year's NFL Scouting Combine, it's clear that this is a highly-regarded class of running backs.

Penn State's Saquon Barkley is inarguably the best player in the group, but the top layer of backs in this year's crop is deep. There are as many as six runners who could go in the first two rounds come May. 

That still may be too rich for New England's blood. In the last 11 Patriots drafts, they've only taken one back in the first two rounds. Shane Vereen was a second-rounder back in 2011. The Patriots did conduct a formal interview with Georgia's Sony Michele, who's expected to be among the first three or four backs taken, though, so who knows. 

If you take a look at the next tier of runners, one name that has stood out as a potential Patriots fit early in the process is Miami's Mark Walton. He measured in at 5-foot-10, 202 pounds in Indy, and his running style has been painted as Patriots-esque.'s Lance Zierlein compared Walton to James White. The Pro Football Focus guys have hit him with a Lewis comp

Walton projects as a dual-threat player. He saw 60 targets in his first two seasons, per PFF, and he's a threat to create a big play any time he touches the ball with a few 80-plus yard runs to his name. An ankle injury limited to just four games last season, but he says he's healthy now. He ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash at the combine. 

If a team is looking for a back who can handle adversity, it'd be hard to find anyone who's been through what Walton has. His mother, Kimberly Rogers, died a little over a year ago after suffering a stroke. About a month before that, his daughter Ma'Lani was born prematurely. Walton's father was murdered when he was young. His 15-year-old sister will travel with him to whichever city he calls home next. 

Walton said he met with Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears in Indy. 

"I think the type of guy I am, I think the energy I bring in the room and my story, it speaks for itself," Walton said last week. "The type of person that I am, my background, where I came from, I overcame a lot of things and still here today, speaking among you guys. I didn't give up. That's a huge notice to those team that I could have given up. Once my dad passed, my mom passed, I could have thrown everything away. But I was able to stick it out."

Walton will get a shot to stick it out somewhere in the league. Whether or not his shot -- or that of any other rookie back -- comes from the Patriots could hinge on the lengths Belichick is willing to go to retain a known commodity at that position.


Cardinals CB Peterson 'desperately' wants trade; hello, Patriots?

Cardinals CB Peterson 'desperately' wants trade; hello, Patriots?

Arizona Cardinals All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson "desperately" wants a trade. The Patriots, whose defensive struggles have been well-chronicled this season, last week cleared a little cap room perhaps to facilitate a trade before the Oct. 30 deadline.

New England is reportedly interested in making Peterson's wishes come true. According to Patrick Peterson's cousin, the Patriots have shown interest in trading for the disgruntled cornerback. 

Pairing Peterson with Stephon Gilmore would give New England one of the best corner tandems in the NFL. Peterson, 28, a Pro Bowl selection every year since coming into the NFL in 2011, has 23 career interceptions - third among active corners. He's in the middle of a five-year, $70 million contract and despite the Pats cap move last week, they'd need to clear a little more space for him.

Another issue is Steve Wilks, coach of the 1-6 Cardinals, who told ESPN's Adam Schefter on Monday, "We're not trading Patrick. That's out of the question."

There's about a week to convince the Cards otherwise. The Patriots are usually active at the deadline, including the notable acquisition of another top corner, Aqib Talib in 2012. 



Finding sweet spot for White's workload a challenge for Patriots

Finding sweet spot for White's workload a challenge for Patriots

FOXBORO -- On a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, Bill Belichick detailed the conundrum he and his offensive coaches may face moving forward in terms of how they utilize one of their most valuable assets.

With Sony Michel hurt -- his knee injury is a is not as serious as first thought, according to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport -- how much can the Patriots heap onto James White's plate?

The pass-catching maven is on pace for 103 receptions in 2018, which would be an NFL record for running backs. White played 45 snaps and had a career-high 11 carries in Sunday's victory over the Bears to go along with eight catches for 57 yards and two scores.

"We just have to take it week by week and see how it goes," Belichick said, "see what type of game plan we would want to evolve into, and then who's available on our side and how we'd want to distribute that. 

"It would just really depend week to week, the answers to those questions. They'd probably be a little different week to week too. We'll just have to see how all that plays out."

The reason the answers to those questions are difficult is because White has been steady regardless of his role this season. It's a pass-happy offense and therefore his usage will remain consistent. But if there are depth issues at the position and the Patriots don't have a true between-the-tackles runner they trust, then White could end up with a share of that workload as well -- as he did on Sunday when he was used heavily in the fourth quarter to help bleed the clock. 

"We have a ton of confidence in James," Belichick said. "He does everything well for us . . . We don't want to overload him, but at the same time, he's certainly capable of doing a significant amount for our football team in a lot of different ways. 

"We'll try to find a way for him to be productive without putting it all on his shoulders. That's a little bit of a week-to-week thing too. Some weeks might be a little bit different than others."

Week 7 was a busy week for White. Week 8, Monday night in Buffalo, could be as well if Michel has to miss time. When asked about Michel's availability moving forward, Belichick didn't reveal much. 

"We'll put that out in the injury report Wednesday," Belichick said, "when we know a little more."

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