What Are Possible Explanations for Patriots' Failure to Address Hole at RB?

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMay 2, 2016

For now, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (right) will embrace the running backs on his roster, such as LeGarrette Blount (left).
For now, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick (right) will embrace the running backs on his roster, such as LeGarrette Blount (left).Associated Press

This is not the first time that the New England Patriots have failed to address one of their glaring weaknesses in the NFL draft. 

Entering this weekend's selection process, the consensus across New England was that the Patriots needed a running back, and that the weekend would be a disappointment if the Patriots failed to come away with one of the draft's top ball-carriers. So, when the draft came to a close and the Patriots didn't add to their offensive backfield, there was naturally some head-scratching.

Mike Lowe @MikeLowePPH

So the #Patriots don't draft a running back, which was perceived as a big need. We'll see what happens next.

Jeff Howe @jeffphowe

The Patriots failed to draft a running back for the second consecutive year in which it was viewed as a significant need.

Ben Volin @BenVolin

#Patriots had 9 picks, didn't take a RB. Going for now with Blount, Lewis, White, Donald Brown, Bolden, Iosefa, Develin

There are a few possible explanations for the Patriots' decision to avoid the position this weekend. We'll explore all of them, but the likeliest and most time-proven explanation is that the Patriots simply don't place as much value on their specific team needs as they place on other factors they deem more important. 

It's possible that the Patriots had their eye on more than one running back at certain points in the draft, but that those running backs were off the board before New England was on the clock with their next pick. Given the space of 96 picks between the Patriots' 112th and 208th selections on Saturday, there's a chance that this is among the explanations (regardless of what other reasons were at play).

RBs drafted between picks 112-208
119TexansTyler Ervin
134RavensKenneth Dixon
136BroncosDevontae Booker
143RaidersDeAndre Washington
149GiantsPaul Perkins
150BearsJordan Howard
153EaglesWendell Smallwood
156BillsJonathan Williams
171SeahawksAlex Collins
Source: NFL.com

There were 10 running backs selected between the Patriots' two selections, representing more than 10 percent of the total picks in that range. Clearly, the NFL as a whole felt the value of the running back position was square in the middle of the Patriots' void of picks. 

Had the Patriots used the 147th overall pick when they acquired it from the Miami Dolphins instead of turning around and trading it to the Seattle Seahawks, perhaps the Patriots would have come away with one of those running backs that were selected shortly thereafter. They also wouldn't have come away with the extra fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft that they acquired in that second trade. 

Put more plainly, the Patriots had an opportunity to draft any of the running backs in this year's class, but they chose not to pull the trigger. This should not surprise anyone at this point. 

Year after year, the Patriots pass on need when talented players appear to be staring them in the face. In 2011, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick raved about the depth on the defensive line in the draft. That was the year we were introduced to J.J. Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson, Robert Quinn, Jabaal Sheard and others. 

The pass rush was a need in 2009 as well, when the Patriots traded out of an opportunity to draft Clay Matthews before he wound up with the Green Bay Packers, or Connor Barwin before he landed with the Houston Texans

The Patriots have also addressed their needs through the draft before to bad results. Take 2013, for example, when the team added wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce in the second and fourth rounds, respectively. Three years later, they added two more wide receivers, this time in the fourth and seventh rounds. 

In a sense, ignoring needs is no better than overemphasizing them. A team that ignores needs might have holes right now, but a team that overemphasizes them might have those same holes in short order.

The smartest thing a team can do is find the spots where need intersects with value: that means adding the best players available while accounting for position. The Patriots' horizontal stacking of their board, as opposed to a top-to-bottom stack, allows them to see where a number of players have a similar grade. 

With that in mind, there was probably more than one opportunity for the Patriots to address the running back position on Friday or Saturday.

That leads to one more possible explanation of the Patriots' ignorance at the running back position: confidence.  

LeGarrette Blount has two full years of experience in the Patriots offense. Dion Lewis showed massive potential in the first half of the season before his season-ending knee injury. James White enters his third season in the league and in the Patriots offense, after showing flashes of brilliance in relief duty for Lewis. There's also Brandon Bolden, Donald Brown and Tyler Gaffney competing for carries in the background of the depth chart.

Also don't forget, the offseason isn't over. According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, the Patriots have made plans to try out undrafted running back Shaquille Powell at training camp this summer. There's still three months before training camp begins.

The Patriots have plenty of running backs, but Blount and Lewis were both injured last year, which leaves a bleak image for a memory of what the Patriots running game looked like. Granted, the running game was struggling before and after their respective injuries, but if the Patriots can get better blocking up front from the offensive line, the running game could fix itself.

There's never one good reason for anything that happens in football; why should the draft be any different? With so many moving parts throughout the process, there are plenty of reasons why the Patriots could have opted against drafting a running back with any of their nine picks.


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