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2022 Free Agent Forecast: Running Backs

The new NFL year begins Wednesday, March 16, and with it, the advent of 2022's free agent marketplace. Leading up to that first day, we'll examine the landscape from a Patriots perspective, continuing with the running backs.

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Patriots running back James White (28).

The new NFL year begins Wednesday, March 16, and with it, the advent of 2022's free agent marketplace. Leading up to that first day, we'll examine the landscape from a Patriots perspective, continuing with the running backs.

PATRIOTS FREE AGENTS

OTHER NOTABLE NFL FREE AGENTS

Cordarrelle Patterson (ATL), Leonard Fournette (TB), James Conner (AZ), Chase Edmonds (AZ), Sony Michel (LAR), Marlon Mack (IND)

POSSIBLE PATRIOTS

Mack, J.D. McKissic (SEA), Darrel Williams (KC)

ANALYSIS

There's reason for some excitement at running back with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson back again, but there are questions again this offseason at the third-down back role.

Harris is scheduled to hit free agency next offseason, he could be an extension candidate, but for 2022 he and Stevenson should be ready to roll over defenses even better than they did in 2021. With a full year under his belt, Stevenson knows what to expect and can build from an excellent rookie campaign.

James White returned and showed early chemistry with Mac Jones yet ended his one-year contract on Injured Reserve and is due to hit free agency again. Would bringing him back for another go-round make sense? Is little used back up J.J. Taylor ready for an expanded role? Brandon Bolden was capable in filling in for White and brings a lot of value and experience to the room, but he's a free agent as well.

White probably makes the most sense for any free agent investment, he knows everything there is to know about the Patriots and is one of the team's most respected leaders. If other captains like Matthew Slater and Dont'a Hightower were to depart, that would leave a sizable leadership void that White would be ideal to help fill. But his injury status adds a layer of uncertainty.

But the Patriots should certainly be on the lookout for a long-term White replacement in the draft. It's been surprising that they haven't continued the pipeline that essentially ran from Kevin Faulk to Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen before White took over in 2015. Giving a rookie the chance to learn behind White for a year seems ideal.

If White is not retained or is unable to return, a veteran like Marlon Mack, who was a popular trade target last season, could fit in well. He had 52 catches in his first three season before falling down the depth chart for the Colts. J.D. McKissic played under Matt Patricia in 2019 and had 34 catches with the Lions that year. He went on to catch 123 passes and four receiving touchdowns in two seasons with Washington.

At fullback, Johnson has continuously improved over his three seasons but now the Patriots face a crossroads with him as he hits restricted free agency. While he might not receive a tender, it doesn't rule out a return. The team has shown how much they value having a fullback on the roster.

In the past, the Patriots have often overstocked the running back position and while they have two very good pieces in place, there isn't any proven depth behind them and the receiving role is wide open. Rounding out the group is imperative this offseason, both via free agency and the draft.

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