Film Review: What Mike Gillislee Brings To The #Patriots

Just a few days before the 2017 NFL Draft the Patriots officially signed running back Mike Gillislee to a two-year contract. This coming after the Bills, Gilislee’s former team, didn’t match the Patriots offer to the restricted free agent.

The 26-year old running back has been stuck behind LeSean McCoy during his two years in Buffalo. However, on 101 carries, Gillislee led the NFL in yards per carry (5.7) and yards after contact per rush (3.4) in 2016.

There’s no doubt that Gillislee can be considered a “big play” running back with seven rushes of 20+ yards in 2016 (T-6th most in the NFL), which ranked ahead of both David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell.

What makes Gillislee even more impressive is his ability to avoid negative runs and to create big plays out of bad situations. Gillislee possesses tremendous speed, but also shows off good vision and power in his lower body. He also has the uncanny ability to move laterally without any wasted movement and you won’t ever see him dance behind the line of scrimmage.

The combination of those things allowed Gillislee to be one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL last season, ranking seventh in the NFL among qualified running backs in negative rush percentage.

Furthermore, according to football outsiders, Gillislee ranked fourth during the regular season in DYAR, which ranks how many yards a player gains over a replacement player in similar circumstances.

Gillislee’s statistics are too good to ignore, and as you’ll see the tape backs up the numbers.

Between The 20s

When you watch Gillislee last season his ability to bounce runs outside that look dead really stands out. The Dolphins have this play sniffed out, and have two guys in position to cover the back side. On this play, the lateral movement while still gaining significant ground is impressive. Great cut to the outside and then the after burners turn on to get the edge. This is one of the more electrifying runs of the season for Gillislee.

The fact that Gillislee didn’t get tackled in the backfield on this play seems even more impossible than the last one. This play gains 14 yards after Gillislee was first contacted two yards behind the line of scrimmage. One area of Gillislee’s game that I didn’t expect was how much power he runs with in his lower body. You’ll continue to see him run through tackles, especially when he gets up to top speed. He also can get back up to top speed after contact as he shows here. Continue to notice how there’s no wasted movement. As soon as he makes the decision to bounce this run he’s full speed in that direction.

Three plays in a row that are relatively the same, but the end of this run is why it makes the cut. Jamie Collins obviously shoots the wrong gap and this isn’t the best effort for Jabaal Sheard either, but Gillislee breaks three tackles once he gets out on the edge. You see defenders bouncing off of Gillislee a lot more often than you’d expect. He’s deceptively powerful.

This was my personal favorite run from Gillislee in 2016 and it happens to come against the Patriots. Elandon Roberts nearly blows this play up in the backfield, but Gillislee manages to elude the contact between Roberts and Bills guard Richie Incognito. What really makes this run great is the vision to see the running lane to his left, and it’s never easy to break a tackle attempt by Dont’a Hightower in the hole. Then it’s speed to the edge and a nice little stutter step to gain a few yards.

Here’s another great escape from Gillislee. The play is designed to go to the outside, but the Jets defense plays it perfectly. Tremendous cut to get up field once he sees the edge is sealed. Gillislee breaks this partially because #93 on the Jets (Deon Simon) doesn’t exactly put in a lot of effort, but once Gillislee gets into open space he’s gone. The vision, elusiveness, and power in traffic is unique.

This is one of the more filthy spin moves you’ll see from Gillislee on Super Bowl hero Trey Flowers. As fun as the spin is to watch, focus on Gillislee’s feet throughout the run. Even when he’s making Flowers whiff, he’s still moving his feet and gaining yards. Patriots fans have been driven mad by LeGarrette Blount’s slow feet and high number of negative runs. Worry no more because Mike Gillislee has you covered.

Goal Line Back 

With the likely departure of LeGarrette Blount the Patriots lose his 18 rushing touchdowns from 2016 (team record, led NFL), 13 of which came within five yards of the end zone (also led NFL).

Along with Gillislee’s electric ability in the open field is his production as a goal line running back. Gillislee split the goal line duties with LeSean McCoy in 2016. Gillislee converted ten rush attempts into seven touchdowns from inside the five yard line, while McCoy tallied 11 such carries for five touchdowns.

Gillislee’s seven “goal line” touchdowns on the ground ranked tied for sixth in the NFL in 2016, and he proved last season that he can take on those responsibilities with the Patriots.

It makes sense that Gillislee would be a productive goal line back. Smaller running backs that are best in this role are decisive, run with power, and with a low center of gravity. On both of these plays Gillislee doesn’t waste any time picking a spot, and wins a battle with a linebacker trying to keep him out of the end zone. For a 220 pound running back Gillislee packs a lot of punch in his legs and burrows his way into the end zone. Jamie Collins bounces right off Gillislee, and he pushes Raiders linebacker Riley Perry back a full yard for the score.

Mike Gillislee serves as a perfect example of a player that could break out with more carries. The Patriots ran the ball 29.3 times per game in Tom Brady’s 12 regular season games last season, 17.6 of those attempts were by LeGarrette Blount.

Although it’s a somewhat crowded backfield with Rex Burkhead, James White, and Dion Lewis on the roster the guess is here that Gillislee will replace the lions share of Blount’s rush attempts in 2017.

Burkhead will present a more versatile running back that can also catch passes along with special teams duties, James White will be the pure receiving back, and Dion Lewis’ spot on the roster is in question.

In all likelihood it’s going to be Gillislee that leads the Patriots in rush attempts in 2017, and based on his performance the last two seasons with the Bills, that’s something Patriots fans should be very excited about.