LaDainian Tomlinson explains why Patriots RBs should love Cam Newton signing

LaDainian Tomlinson explains why Patriots RBs should love Cam Newton signing

If history is any indication, Sony Michel and James White should be just as excited as Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu about Cam Newton coming to New England.

The Patriots reportedly signed the free-agent quarterback to a one-year contract Sunday as he looks to rebound from an injury-plagued 2019 season.

If healthy, Newton is a significant upgrade over second-year QB Jarrett Stidham and journeyman Brian Hoyer. His mobility (assuming full health) also gives New England's offense another dimension that, if you ask LaDainian Tomlinson, will directly benefit the team's deep stable of running backs.

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“If I’m Sony Michel or James White, I’m very excited about the opportunities that I’m getting in that backfield along with Cam Newton,” Tomlinson said Monday on NFL Network's "NFL Total Access," as transcribed by "When you think about all of the running backs that Cam Newton has played with, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, even to Christian McCaffrey, all of those guys have had success because of the RPO game."

Newton excelled at the "run-pass option" in Carolina because defenses had to honor his threat to run: He racked up 4,808 rushing yards and 58 rushing TDs with the Panthers from 2011 to 2018. That threat opened up rushing lanes for Carolina's running backs, and the results showed: The Panthers ranked among the NFL's top five teams in rushing yards in four of Newton's first eight seasons with the team and never finished worse than 11th.

"You have to account for Cam Newton. Therefore, you have to always have an identified and defined box," Tomlinson added. "A lot of times they’re going to play eight or nine men in the box. That way, when you’re a running back, you clear the first wave of people and there’s nobody else back there. Because everybody is lined up in the box to stop the RPO game."

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Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels -- who never ran RPOs with the glacially slow Tom Brady -- has a wealth of options in the running game if Newton is healthy: Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden and Damien Harris complement Michel and White in one of the NFL's most versatile RB groups.

Oh, and Newton likes throwing to his running backs, too: McCaffrey led all NFL RBs in 2018 with 107 receptions. That's good news for White, who could become Newton's safety valve in the passing game.

The Patriots averaged just 3.8 yards per rush last season, 25th in the NFL. If Newton is healthy enough to be a threat in the running game, he should help boost that number significantly.

Todd McShay's new 2020 NFL Mock Draft has Patriots taking Alabama LB

Todd McShay's new 2020 NFL Mock Draft has Patriots taking Alabama LB

Do we know what the state of college and NFL football will be in the spring of 2021? No. Has that stopped the experts from prognosticating? Also no.

Major conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-12 already have pushed their 2020 football seasons to next spring, and it's still unclear whether college football will even happen. It's also unclear if the 2020 NFL season will happen, as a host of players already have opted out due to concerns about COVID-19.

Despite all that, the 2021 NFL mock drafts are already starting to trickle in. And if you're looking for signs of normalcy, here's one: ESPN's Todd McShay has the New England Patriots taking an Alabama defender.

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Here's McShay's explanation for the Patriots taking Crimson Tide inside linebacker Dylan Moses at No. 26 overall:

If there were a QB who made sense at this stage in the draft, the Patriots would probably look there. At this point, there isn't one, as my Nos. 4 and 5 quarterbacks -- Texas A&M's Kellen Mond and Iowa State's Brock Purdy -- are well down the board. But there is a linebacker (two, actually, with LSU's Jabril Cox also available) here who would go a long way toward providing the middle of the defense a QB of its own.

Moses missed last season with a knee injury, but when he's healthy, he is a complete player and game-changer. He brings athleticism, speed, physicality and leadership qualities. Dont'a Hightower, who already opted out of 2020, will be a free agent after the 2021 season, and the 'backer corps already lost Jamie Collins Sr. and Elandon Roberts to the open market.  

Moses won a national championship with Alabama as a freshman in 2017 and was a second-team All-American in 2018 but missed the entire 2019 season due to a knee injury.

He announced his intention to return to Tuscaloosa in 2020 but will be draft-eligible in 2021, and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has a long history of drafting good friend Nick Saban's players, from Hightower (2012) to cornerback Cyrus Jones (2016) to running back Damien Harris (2019) to outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings earlier this year.

New England certainly has a need at the position, too: Collins, Roberts and Kyle Van Noy left in free agency this offseason, while Hightower will hit free agency in 2021.

NFL Rumors: Sony Michel may not be ready for Patriots' season opener

NFL Rumors: Sony Michel may not be ready for Patriots' season opener

The New England Patriots are incredibly deep at running back. So, why are they reportedly bringing in Lamar Miller?

Part of that answer may have to do with Sony Michel, who had foot surgery in May and began training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

According to The Athletic's Jeff Howe, it's "no sure thing" Michel will be healthy for the Patriots' 2020 season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 13.

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"There’s such an uncertain nature in the recovery from any foot surgery that it can be a challenge to predict a defined timeline," Howe wrote. "But right now, Michel is not on the doorstep."

That's obviously concerning news for the third-year running back, who also missed three games as a rookie due to a knee injury. Michel played in all 16 games last season, though, and led New England with 912 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns on 247 carries.

The Patriots have until Labor Day weekend to activate Michel from the PUP list; if they don't, he'll miss at least the first six weeks of the season.

It appears Miller is their Michel insurance policy as an early-down, workhorse running back to complement James White, Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris after Brandon Bolden opted out of the 2020 season.

Considering Michel's current status, they may have to use that "insurance policy" right off the bat.