Who Will Be Running To New England?

Next man up – a motto that the New England Patriots have been touting throughout the Bill Belichick era. It has not mattered if there was injury, poor play or free agency – it has always been “next man up.”

This mantra will have to be in full effect in 2018 when it comes to the running back position. Both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead are set to test the free agent market, and both will likely garner a contract that is more than the Patriots are willing to dish out. Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald even reported that it would likely take three years and over $10-million in guarantees to keep Lewis. Howe also reported that it may take up to $18-million to keep Lewis.

That would leave James White and Mike Gillislee as the lone backs that could make an impact in 2018, the latter did only play in one game after the month of October, however.

It appears clear that the Patriots will need to add a running back at some point in the NFL Draft. This draft has plenty of talent at the top with Saquon Barkley and Derrius Guice, but what are some of the more realistic options to line up with Tom Brady next year?

1) Nick Chubb – Georgia: Chubb was one half of the dynamic, dangerous backfield duo at Georgia. To many, he is known for the horrific knee injury he suffered in October of 2015. At the time, many feared he would never return to his elite form. He since has, and is in the mold of recent Patriots running backs that have had success (5-11, 228 lbs).

Chubb can be productive from a multitude of areas – between the tackles, off-tackle or to the edge. He has good speed (4.52 40-yard dash) and quickness (7.09 3-cone drill, 4.25 short shuttle), but is not really great in any of the areas. Chubb is not really a threat out of the backfield, but with James White already on the roster, he does not need to be. His toughness, drive and ability to stay productive while splitting carries make him a great fit in New England. He should be available at 31, 43 and could even be available at 63.

2) Rashaad Penny – San Diego State: Penny is another back cut to the Patriots mold (5-11, 220 lbs). He has fresh legs after lining up next to Donnel Pumphery early in his career. He got his chance in 2017, and made the most of it to the tune of 2,248 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground. He is a good receiver as well, though he will not be unseating White’s role any time soon.

A steady back with good ability to all parts of the field, he can handle the duties on 1st and 2nd down with ease. He might not be a big break back and will likely not put up too many highlight runs – but he could fit the role the Patriots need with ease. He will likely be there at pick 63 and could even be there for pick 95 if the Patriots get lucky.

3) Kalen Ballage – Arizona State: This would break the mold a bit for the Patriots. Ballage’s build is somewhere between a big back and a slot receiver, and his athleticism matches that. He has good speed and great quickness for a back. His 6.91 3-cone drill was 4th among running backs and would put him in line with many of the slot receivers in the draft (including Trey Quinn, who should be on the Patriots’ board).

His inconsistency in college will hurt him, and he likely would need some time to assimilate himself to the NFL game. This would be a pick for the Patriots’ future, but one that would give them a versatile weapon that could develop into a matchup problem for other teams. He should be available for both 136 and 205 if the Patriots want him at either spot.

4) Mark Walton – Maimi (FL): Walton displays the right body and build to hammer the ball up the middle with consistency. Short, but strong legs and carries the weight through his thighs to produce speed and power. He could solve some of the problems the Patriots had in short-yardage situations if he trusts his blockers – which was a big problem for him at Miami.

He is stout in pass protection as well, something Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels value a great deal. His ankle injury should see him drop a bit, but the Patriots should still be able to get him at 95 or 136, though he is more likely in the 4th round.

5) Roc Thomas – Jacksonville State: The Patriots have never been shy to give smaller school players an opportunity to shine. This should be the case for someone who once was thought of as a star running back. Thomas has a great build with a solid frame and strong lower body. He can cut it back and take it the distance, showing good patience and breakaway speed.

He can make plays in the run and pass game, but will need to work on pass protection if he wanted to get time in New England. He should be available at pick 136, but would likely be gone by 205.