New England Patriots Should Take the Volume Approach at Running BackMarch 25, 2016
With Dion Lewis, James White, Brandon Bolden and Donald Brown on the roster, the New England Patriots might seem to have things figured out at running back; but as we've seen before, a stocked depth chart hasn't stopped them from adding players at a particular position in the past.
And if the Patriots want to solve their continued need for a running back, they'd be wise to throw more than one dart at the board.
Year after year, we see examples of the Patriots' tried and true "volume approach," which I've explored in the past. The method involves adding multiple players at one position: be they rookies in the draft, veterans in free agency or players who are nearing the end of their career. The logic is that, with three or four new players at a position, there are higher odds of finding a talented player who fits the system.
Basically, it's about playing the odds of the offseason acquisition game.
This was the Patriots' approach at running back from 2010-2011, a period of two offseasons where the Patriots added Danny Woodhead in Week 2 of the 2010 season, and then added two running backs in the draft: Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. They also re-signed of their own: Kevin Faulk.
The Patriots took a similar, though more long-range approach from 2009-2011 at cornerback. In '09, it was free agents Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs and rookies Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington (free agent off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles). In '11, it was Ras-I Dowling and Malcolm Williams in the draft, and Philip Adams and Sterling Moore as in-season free-agent additions.
But the Patriots have accelerated the process in the past by condensing a number of moves into one offseason. The most notable was at the wide receiver position in 2007. The Patriots turned over their entire depth chart at wide receiver, with the exception of Jabar Gaffney, in an effort to fix what had been one of the team's biggest weaknesses the year before.
In 2011, the Patriots went hard to fix their defensive line by adding four free agents: Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis.
And now, they can do it again at running back in 2016.
They've already started with the signing of free agent Donald Brown. The Patriots probably shouldn't expect much from the former UConn Husky, who has averaged just 3.1 yards per carry on 144 carries over the past two seasons combined. That being said, Brown wouldn't be the first player to join the Patriots and put up better numbers than in his previous stop (see running back Antowain Smith and wide receiver Wes Welker for the best examples).
|Arian Foster and Anthony "Boobie" Dixon|
|Player||Arian Foster||Anthony Dixon|
There are still some options available on the open market if the Patriots want more of a veteran presence in their backfield (each of their running backs is 28 years or younger). Former Houston Texans running back Arian Foster is still available, as is former Buffalo Bills running back Anthony Dixon. Foster is the more proven commodity; Dixon might have more life left in his legs, but he won't offer nearly as much in the passing game.
The Patriots could even re-sign free agent LeGarrette Blount, if they want to stick with a familiar face.
That being said, with the 2016 NFL draft just a month away, it's entirely possible that the Patriots could wait until the draft to make any more moves at running back.
Now with four picks in the top 100, the Patriots have plenty of ammunition to move all over the board, or to stand pat (no pun intended) with their picks. Their needs are mostly on a backup level, as opposed to needing top-of-the-order starters, so it would make sense for them to stay out of the first round—unless there's one player they particularly like.
|Patriots' potential running back prospects|
|Player||K. Dixon||K. Drake||C.J. Prosise|
But there are plenty of running backs who will be available when the Patriots pick, including Kenneth Dixon (Louisiana Tech), Kenyan Drake (Alabama) and C.J. Prosise (Notre Dame), who will all be taken in the second- to fourth-round range.
Dixon may not be the fastest thing in cleats, but he has more overall athleticism, as evidenced by his sterling numbers at the scouting combine (6.97-second three-cone drill, 121-inch broad jump, 37 1/2-inch vertical jump), and he is also a more well-versed receiver out of the backfield than most of his draft classmates.
Drake gets less recognition than his teammate, Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, but he has a more well-rounded skill set and still amassed 233 carries for 1,495 yards and 18 touchdowns in his career, as well as 46 receptions for 570 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver.
Prosise, at 6'0" and 220 pounds, has the frame the Patriots need in their battering-ram between-the-tackles runner, but he does need to learn to keep his body low and avoid running upright. LeGarrette Blount credited Bill Belichick with helping him to run with better pad level, so he could teach Prosise in the same manner.
There are plenty of options for the Patriots to explore this offseason, so why limit themselves? If they stay aggressive by adding more than one player, they significantly increase their chances of finding someone to fill their need at running back.