NBC Sports

Curran: Pats have key decisions to make at RB this offseason

NBC Sports

The strongest part of the Patriots' offense is their backfield.

The 2020 emergence of Damien Harris (137 carries, 691 yards, five catches, 52 yards) and the re-emergence of Sony Michel (79 carries, 449 yards, seven catches, 114 yards) means this team has a pair of backs who can run between the tackles. Backs take a beating. Having two is a boon, not redundant.

The Patriots will have a decision to make in a few months on whether or not to pick up Michel’s fifth-year option for 2022. Michel, the 31st pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, would make the average of the third through 25th-highest salaries among running backs.

Curran's QB evaluation: You won't find any QB solutions on this roster

In 2020, that worked out to $5.2M. It will be higher when the Patriots make their call on Michel so it’s likely the Patriots won’t exercise the option and this will be Michel’s last year under contract.

Speaking of contracts, the Patriots have decisions to make on two key backs, James White and Rex Burkhead. Both are free agents.

White, the Patriots' best pass-catching back, had a tough go of it with Cam Newton at quarterback. He caught 49 of the 62 passes he was targeted with for 375 yards (7.7 YPC). He carried 35 times for 121 yards and he had big struggles in pass protection.

Ground and pound

Patriots' rushing yards per game in 2020, most in the Belichick era
146.6

He missed two games after a tragic accident claimed the life of his father and left his mother hospitalized. His contributions go beyond what he does on the field, though, and it would be a surprise if the team doesn’t find a way to keep him around.

 

As for Burkhead, he was arguably the team’s best offensive player before he tore his ACL in Week 11. He’s 30 and will probably miss most of the offseason rehabbing.

Brandon Bolden is on the record as being back in for 2021 after opting out last season. He’s a valuable player on all four downs.

Finally, there’s J.J. Taylor, who flashed in his rookie season with 23 carries for 110 yards in six games. He’ll be interesting to watch in camp this year with a full offseason under his belt.

Editor's note: Every Tuesday, Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran will evaluate a different position on New England's offense to reset where the team stands entering the offseason. Next up: the running backs.