Hannable: Appreciate Bennett, Long for leaving New England the right way
by: Ryan Hannable on Tue, 03/14/2017 - 11:18pm
The Patriots remained active in free agency on Tuesday by adding former Bengals running back Rex Burkhead.
While Burkhead was a good signing, and is a player who will certainly help in 2017, this cannot be the only running back the Patriots sign. Last season proved just how vital a hard-nosed, physical back is to the offense, and Burkhead just isn't that.
Many assumed Burkhead would be LeGarrette Blount's replacement when in fact he's more likely Brandon Bolden's replacement.
Because of injuries last season with the Benagls, the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder had a much bigger role down the stretch. After getting a total of six carries in the first 10 games, he had 68 in the final six, including 27 for 119 yards and two touchdowns in the season finale against the Ravens.
While it was a good way to close out the season, Burkhead only was in the position because of injuries to Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. If he was indeed a capable lead back, he would have had more than 19 carries in his first 36 games as a pro.
Burkhead is a back who may be most known for his versatility. He can catch passes out of the backfield and line up all over the field. In his four seasons with the Bengals, he caught 34 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown. He also was one of the Bengals' best special teams players, likely where he will see most of his playing time with the Patriots.
Many will wonder why he didn't sign with a team where he would play more of a role out of the backfield, but it appears he wants to win based on his tweet after the signing became official.
"Just want to thank the Bengals org. for everything the past 4 years," he wrote. "All class. Excited for the opportunity to compete in New England."
So with Burkhead more of a gadget back/special teams player, the Patriots really do need to turn their attention to a physical running back who can run in between the tackles consistently. The current depth chart of Dion Lewis, James White, DJ Foster and Burkhead isn't going to get it done from a power perspective. Blount is still available and if he's willing to return for another season for around $1 million, the Patriots should welcome him back with open arms.
Despite falling off a bit towards the end of the year, Blount played an underrated role in the offense in 2016. The 30-year-old accounted for 62 percent of the Patriots' running plays in the regular season. Overall, the Patriots had a run/pass ratio of 47 percent run/53 percent pass, which was the highest running play percentage since 2008 when Tom Brady was out for the year with a torn ACL and Matt Cassel was under center.
With Brady at quarterback, it was the highest running play percentage since 2006 when the team ran the ball on 49 percent of their offensive plays. Blount also led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 18, so the running game had more of an impact than some think.
Considering Brady is turning 40 years old before the season starts, the running game is very important so the offense isn't all dependent on Brady's right shoulder. The offense needs a back who can run ball 15-20 times a game in between the tackles and wear out defenses like Blount was able to do on a number of occasions last season.
If not Blount, there are a few backs available that fit what they need. No, they likely are not going to go the Adrian Peterson route, but there are quality backs out there like James Starks, Rashad Jennings, Benny Cunningham, DeAngelo Williams and Shaun Draughn.
While the addition of Burkhead was a good one of the Patriots, it certainly doesn't complete the puzzle at running back for 2017, and perhaps its biggest piece is still missing and based on what happened last year, that needs to be found sooner rather than later.