Stevan Ridley

Damien Harris' low usage par for the course in the Belichick Era

Damien Harris' low usage par for the course in the Belichick Era

N'Keal Harry isn't the only high-profile rookie on the Patriots offense struggling to find a role.

While Harry, the team's first-round pick, has received more attention thus far, another highly-touted prospect, third-round pick Damien Harris, hasn't been able to get on the field much either.

Despite the mediocre performance of the team's running game, Harris has only dressed for two games through the bye week. He has just four carries for 12 yards. And all of those opportunities came in garbage time of the team's blowout win over the New York Jets on Monday Night Football.

On the surface, this may be surprising. After all, Harris had two 1,000-yard seasons at Alabama and totaled 20 touchdowns over the course of his last two seasons. He was considered to be one of the best running backs available in the 2019 NFL Draft. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah had him ranked as the 66th-best player in the class and fourth-overall among running backs.

And just look at some of his dominant plays from his college days.

So why aren't the Patriots playing him much? The answer is fairly simple.

It's par for the course for Bill Belichick to give non-first-round running backs a year to get acclimated to the NFL.

Since 2011, Belichick and the Patriots have drafted four running backs outside of the first round. They are Harris (2019), James White (2014), Shane Vereen (2011), and Stevan Ridley (2011).

We already dove into Harris' first-year stats so far, and they are pretty much non-existent. But the other runners on this list weren't very productive as rookies either.

Ridley was the best of the bunch, playing in all 16 games during his rookie season and logging 441 yards and a score on 87 carries. He served as an early-downs option in the team's backfield-by-committee approach, splitting time with the likes of Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.

However, neither Vereen nor White did much at all as rookies. They played in five and three games respectively and posted very similar yardage totals (Vereen had 15 touches for 57 yards while White had 14 for 51). But for the most part, each was relegated to the inactives list on gameday.

Though they didn't do much as rookies, both Vereen and White would eventually find their strides with the Patriots and become key role players for the squad. So too would Ridley.

White, in particular, has developed well, and he is currently one of the best receiving backs in the NFL. He even made a case to be the Super Bowl 52 MVP after his record-breaking performance helped to key the team's comeback against the Atlanta Falcons.

Harris figures to follow a similar path to these three. He'll see a little work as a rookie and if he develops, he could easily become an impactful player in the Patriots' offense. It just may not be this year.

Of course, Harris could end up getting a chance to prove himself if the running game continues to sputter. But it's not a major surprise that he hasn't done much yet. Belichick simply likes to take time to develop his running backs, so he's choosing to trust the more veteran options on New England's roster.

Harris is patiently awaiting his opportunity, and it will eventually come. Just don't be surprised if his big chance doesn't arrive until his second season in the NFL.

PERRY: How the Patriots can fix their problems during the bye week>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Stevan Ridley describes 'awesome feeling' of revenge win vs. Patriots

Stevan Ridley describes 'awesome feeling' of revenge win vs. Patriots

Turns out Stevan Ridley didn't have to eat his words -- quite the opposite, in fact.

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back admitted last week he was out for revenge in Sunday's game against the Patriots after New England "trashed" him following his ACL injury with the team in 2014.

When asked Sunday night if he took pleasure in Pittsburgh beating his former team 17-10 at Heinz Field, Ridley gave another honest answer.

"Absolutely. It’s been a long grind back, but it paid off," Ridley told WEEI.com's Ryan Hannable. "It was great. It was an awesome feeling."

Ridley echoed that sentiment on Twitter after the game.

The 29-year-old running back, who spent four seasons with the Patriots after they drafted him in 2011 and wasn't re-signed following the 2014 season, added he didn't hear from anyone in New England leading up to the game -- which was perfectly fine by him.

"No, it’s always quiet," Ridley said. "We already knew how it was over there and I didn’t really want to hear from them anyway.

"We were focused on this and we’re going to enjoy this one as a team."

Ridley didn't exactly play a central role in Pittsburgh's win -- he had 16 rushing yards on three carries -- but he's at least getting some opportunity after Le'Veon Bell's holdout and James Conner's injury bumped him up two spots on the depth chart.

And as far as he's concerned, knocking off the mighty Patriots was the only stat he cared about.

"I just wanted to get it done," he said. "I am happy we got the win. God is good.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Report: Steelers RB Conner won't play vs. Patriots

Report: Steelers RB Conner won't play vs. Patriots

To no one's surprise, really, after he didn't practice all week, Steelers running back James Conner is unlikely to play against the Patriots, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

Conner was downgraded to doubtful Saturday by the Steelers.

Without Conner last Sunday in a loss to the Raiders, Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley combined for only 32 yards on 16 carries. Ridley, the former Patriots running back who's also made stops with the Jets and briefly the Falcons since leaving New England after the 2014 season, has vowed revenge against his former team who he said "trashed him" after a season-ending ACL injury in '14.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE