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Ask PFW: Patriots still in need of a RB?

The bulk of the offseason is over as the Patriots are getting to work at Gillette Stadium but fans still have questions about the New England roster, most notably at the running back position. Those emails and much more fill out the latest Ask PFW mailbag.

Who will run the football in playoffs? It's obvious that you need someone who can run the ball in the playoffs.

Playing Since Grade School

Aside from against the Colts, the Patriots haven't really run the ball in the postseason in recent years – in either success or failure. That said, I do agree that it would be nice to see the team have a better running game late in 2016 and into the postseason. Right now, LeGarrette Blount would have to be the most likely candidate to tote the rock. He was the big-bodied lead back last fall prior to his injury and may have topped 1,000 yards (he averaged 58 yards a game in the 12 contests he played in) had he not missed the final three-plus games. Steven Jackson had very little left when he joined the team out of retirement, averaging 2.7 yards per carry or less in each of the four games he played in a New England uniform with his longest run going for 8 yards. Right now, with the way the roster is constituted, it's Blount or bust for the power running game assuming New England doesn't add to the roster at the running back position in the coming months. But, I think the possibility of adding another running back in some form or fashion is probably a very likely scenario.

Andy Hart

Why is necessary a RB? The Patriots have Dion Lewis, White, Blount, Bolden. Lewis could be one of the best RB in this moment, he has speed, agility and he makes first downs. And Blount is very strong.

Carlos Figueroa

While there are some bodies on the running back depth chart, they all come with questions or doubts. Lewis is coming off a torn ACL that could limit him early in the season and for a guy with his shifty style, could be an issue to keep an eye on for even longer than that. Even at his best, he's a passing back and not a traditional lead ball carrier. White has struggled to run the ball in his limited chances and he looks like he's only really an option in the passing game. Bolden is a career backup who's never really shown the ability to maximize increased reps, chances and opportunities. Finally, Blount has shown the ability to do the job at times and has failed to really step up in other chances. He's been his best against the Colts soft run defense. Though his season numbers from 2015 look OK with a 4.3 average, he also was below 4 yards a carry in five of the 12 games he played in last fall. That's not good enough or consistent enough, especially with the benefit of playing with arguably the best passing attack in football. Can the Patriots win without adding a better running back to improve the running game? Yes. Would they better if they added that dimension to the offense and maybe be better suited for postseason adjustments when the rubber meets the road? No question.

Andy Hart

Hey guys, big fan of your work and an even bigger fan of the Pats and good 'ol Tommy Touchdown (which is especially hard going to school in upstate NY.) I wanted to ask you guys -- even though I'm sure you've answered every question there is to ask on the running back situation -- what you think the effect of no added draft talent will have on James Develin's usage? Obviously we picked up D.J. Foster and we have Blount, Lewis, Brown, etc. and Devlin is a FB not RB, but as a big bruiser, do you guys think it would be too big a leap for him to improve his speed, acceleration and agility so that he could run some more stuff out of the I? Or do you think he'll stay a goal-line/short yardage runner?

All the best--See you in Houston

Jonathan Kirshenbaum

I may be the biggest James Develin fan on the planet who doesn't have the last name Develin. (And I have thought about changing my name!) But asking him to take on an increased role as a ball carrier with the hopes that he could inject life into the running game is pretty unrealistic. The man is a converted defensive lineman. He has plenty of strengths, but being a lead back is not one of them. He adds a work ethic and physicality to a team. He's an improving blocker. He can catch the ball in a pinch. But if he's the secret plan for the Patriots rushing attack then the issue is even more of a concern than any of us have considered.

Andy Hart

The Patriots appear to be well stocked at some positions and a bit thin at others. For example, our pass rush may take a slight step back and we do not have a bruising RB who can make plays on his own. Yet perhaps the biggest position that I am puzzled by is OT. The Patriots have $17-18M allocated there to three players, and last year, the position was a mess for all known reasons. Vollmer, the best in the group, is getting up an age, while in all years including the time under the coach "Scar", Cannon has not shown a consistent starting-caliber play despite what the celebrated coach says about him. Solder is solid if not spectacular often losing his matchups to elite pass rushers. I would think that for the money the Patriots should do better than that and I still wonder, why highly-agile Thuney cannot be the next Matt Light? I saw his footwork playing tackle and it was faster than any OT we have in the roster. Why are Patriots so committed to him playing in the overcrowded inside?

Stan C.

While I do sometimes pretend to be an offensive line expert, I am not. In these situations I defer to guys paid to be true experts (though they sometimes get it wrong, too) like Dante Scarnecchia, Bill Belichick and other scouts/coaches. They all seem to agree, right down to the player himself and even his college coach, that third-round pick Joe Thuney is best suited to play on the interior in the NFL. That has to do with his length as well as other factors. Over time, maybe we'll see how it plays out. For the here and now at tackle, I think the biggest issues are health and Scarnecchia's return. The unit will be better coached in 2016 and that is in no way a slight at Dave DeGuglielmo. He just doesn't have the experience and track record that Scar brings to the meeting room and the field. And if Solder and Vollmer can stay healthy, the tackle position will have a major leg up on last season. Also, don't forget LaAdrian Waddle, who stepped in as a fill-in starter last year and at worst could compete with Cannon for the backup job. I, too, have always had my doubts about Cannon's value and ability, other than a few decent games filling in for Vollmer at right tackle. For the most part, I think he's a disappointment, even if he did battle his own toe injury last fall.

Andy Hart

I know the '16 season hasn't even started yet but, I read something the other day saying the Pats have 40-something free agents next year? Is this coincidence? I looked and I don't see many big name FA being available next year? There's a couple WR but that's not BBs style? I know we'll resign a few of the core guys but do you guys have any insight on this?

Nick Hayes

The Patriots do have a ton of free agents next year. I think it's a combination of factors. Some of it is a coincidence with veteran contracts expiring, but some of it is the fact that they've been a very young team in recent years and young teams have a lot of guys on short contracts. Certainly the biggest would-be free agents are well known such as Jamie Collins, Malcolm Butler, Dont'a Hightower, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon all playing out rookie contracts. Expiring veterans includes the likes of Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon, Martellus Bennett, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard, among others. But, this could change significantly in the coming months as I'm sure the team will be working on extensions with core players, especially on defense. It's not something I'm overly concerned with at this point. If I'm not mistaken, another very good team and New England's opening day opponent, the Cardinals, have even fewer guys under contract after this season. Dealing with the business side and all these contracts are part of the NFL. Look at the upside, we assume players play their best in contract years as they try to prove themselves worthy of new deals. If that's true, there could be a lot of career years in New England in 2016!

Andy Hart

Are there any free agents still without a home that we may be interested in?

Michael McDonough

While the dust has settled on the bulk of free agency, there are always bodies available. And more bodies will hit the market at various times between now and the end of training camp. The best talent is gone, obviously. Still, maybe a running back like Arian Foster (coming off a torn Achilles) Joique Bell could be a consideration. (More likely, a future cut or trade could fill out that roster hole, though.) There aren't a lot of great fits at other potential need spots like tackle, cornerback or elsewhere. It's rather hard to pinpoint which current street guy would be better than what the Patriots have. For the most part, the 90-man roster you see includes the bulk of the players that will be in New England this year, save for a few alterations this summer.

Andy Hart

Amendola did not "take less money to stay with the Patriots" as Marc Sessler of reports. Dan was not going to make more than that on the open market (which is where he would be if he hadn't taken a cut). His talent is undeniable, but so is his injury-prone status. He has a niche with the Pats. At his age he'd be a fool - and he's obviously not that - to cut himself loose. The Pats are paying him top dollar, and I'm glad they are. Limit his snaps, and we've got a fourth receiver with the talent of a 1 or at least a 2 receiver. Great deal for both parties!

David Pineo

As we like to say on our PFW in Progress radio show, I'm not sure who you are arguing with here. It's a fact that Amendola took a pay cut for the second year in a row in order to remain employed by the Patriots. Could he have gotten the same money on the open market if he'd been cut? More? I have no idea, but the chances of that grew slimmer with every day that went by and every dollar that dried up. Amendola has remained relatively healthy the last couple years, playing in 30 of a possible 32 regular season games. He's far from the talent of a No. 1 receiver, but he's a reliable, now-trusted piece to Tom Brady's passing attack. He's not making top dollar for his role – certainly compared to teammate Chris Hogan – but he's making decent money. He clearly likes being in New England, his teammates and the chance to win. Of course he also made good money when he signed his original deal that guaranteed him at least $10 million. He's well beyond that at this point. Having that money in his back pocket can make some of these decisions easier. He doesn't have to risk chasing the extra dollar; he can stay where he's comfortable and happy.

Andy Hart

With Vincent Valentine drafted as a nose tackle, and Malcom Brown and Terence Knighton, Alan Branch all big bodied 'space eaters' rather than penetrating defensive ends, do you think the Patriots will switch to a 3-4 base formation? I only ask because Rob Ninkovich could play linebacker and, with Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins both three down players, and whatever Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia have planned for Shae McClellan and Rufus Johnson and newcomers Elandon Roberts and Kamu Grugier-Hill, not to mention the numerous positions Jabaal Sheard can line up, it looks like there is the potential for both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts depending on the strength of the opposition's offense. Does the lack of a penetrating defensive tackle to replace Dominique Easley, Chris Jones and Akiem Hicks and drafting Valentine indicate a possible philosophical shift?

David Beckett

I've heard this a lot and don't really understand it. First, the Patriots have had seven-man fronts far less than half the time in recent years. More often the team uses some form of a 4-2-5 format with an extra defensive back – be that a cornerback or a safety. Now, could we see more odd-man fronts or guys lined up over the center at times? Maybe. Also, even if the team were to try more seven-man fronts, I don't see the overall fit in the 3-4. Who plays the end spots, the roles filled in the past by guys like Richard Seymour and Ty Warren? Maybe Malcolm Brown, but I don't see it as a good fit for many of the defensive line men. I think the Patriots will continue to be multiple up front, as they've always been. But I don't see a change back to the old 3-4 we used to see. I think the defense is trending more modern, more speed-based and more often than not has 4-man line principles. But, I'm by no means an expert. We'll have to see how it plays out. There certainly is a lacking in the area of the more athletic defensive tackle, a need that the team did not address this offseason in any significant way.

Andy Hart

Hi, huge 18-year-old Pats fan here! I watched the entire draft and was very curious about the Devin Lucien pick. How do you think he will do in the Patriots offense? He seems to have great hands and has at least some speed.


Gable S.

Lucien is interesting due to his late development – both in his career and over the course of his final college season. He had three huge games to close out his career at Arizona State where he transferred after graduating from UCLA. He has decent speed and playmaking ability. But he's a real long shot. I think he'll struggle early on to learn the offense coming from two spread sets at the college level. He prides himself on great hands, but even that can be an issue if a guy has to think too much about what he's doing on the field. Lucien clearly has ability and maybe he's a late-developing, ascending talent. Or, maybe he's a longshot seventh-round pick. Odds would point toward the latter.

Andy Hart

Hey guys, I'm from and live in Old England so probably don't know as much about the NFL as yourselves, however one thing that stands out is that when Tom Brady stays standing the Patriots win. Just looking at our current roster, albeit with a lot of roster cuts to come, we have 15 offensive linemen, mostly interior guys from what I can tell, I'm just wondering who you think will make the cut and how they'll line up? Personally I thought David Andrews was great as an undrafted rookie, and I wouldn't mind seeing him at center with Stork moving to guard, Solder and Vollmer at tackle with the other guard spot up for grabs, although if Cooper is healthy I think he'll have it. Cheers!

Henry Mitchell

If healthy I think Solder and Vollmer are your starting tackles. I think Stork is a lock for the roster and probably a starting job somewhere in the interior mix. It would seem likely that Jackson, Mason and Thuney have a really good chance to make the team. That's six of what will likely be a group of nine or 10. To that mix I'd add Cannon, Waddle and either Andrews or Cooper, maybe both. Josh Kline is a wild card who could easily be in the mix if Cooper can't show the skills that once earned him a spot as a top-10 pick. But there is a lot to happen between now and when the final group of linemen is established in early September. And remember, this will be the first year that returning coach Dante Scarnecchia works with Mason, Jackson, Stork, Andrews, Thuney, Cooper and Waddle. That's a lot of new faces for him and new coaching for them. That makes the entire mix a clear work in progress and difficult to predict this early on.

Andy Hart

I was wondering why it is that when you list the RB on the team you never list Tyler Gaffney. I saw his film and he looks really good. I know he got hurt at camp last year. The team re-signed him so it would seem that BB thinks that he is worth keeping him on the team. I love your show keep up the good work.

Jesus (JAY)Fernandez

Gaffney has never played in a game for the Patriots. He's never played in an NFL game. He had really one big year in college at Stanford. He's landed on IR twice in two years as a sixth-round pick. He's a total unknown at this point as a relatively aged 26-year-old "prospect." And I wouldn't put too much stock in his remaining with the team. Many players have gotten many years of work in Foxborough – IR, practice squad, etc. – without ever really having an impact. Gaffney has to be considered a total longshot. Of course I probably would have said the same thing at this time last spring about Dion Lewis and look how that worked out!

Andy Hart

Before the draft BB talked of finding value by zigging when others zag. Do you think there are examples of this in 2016s draft, like taking a big DT, when it seems vogue to go for penetrators? Does the disparity between the Patriots draft strategy and the main media buzz fuel the sense of disappointment most fans feel after a draft or do the Pats just reach on players and ignore needs too often?

Colin Brady

I am not familiar with Belichick talking about zigging or zagging. I think he does what he thinks is best at all times, including with every draft pick. That varies with each decision. He followed the "vogue" thing by drafting two undersized speed players like Kamu Grugier-Hill and Elandon Roberts. There is no question, though, that fans get caught up in the media buzz before the draft and then get worked up when the actual New England picks don't meld with that buzz. The Patriots have their own scouting system and board, just like every team. And it's obviously very much independent of any media projections. Do they reach on some players? Yes. Do they take some players where they are ranked by others? Yes. Do they go for needs at times? Yes. There is no way to really pigeon hole how Belichick's Patriots draft. It simply, and appropriately, is what it is.

Andy Hart

Although I'm sure you are tired of them, I have another Deflategate question. What is stopping TB12 from filing suit against Goodell, Kensil, and the NFL for slander, defamation of character, and/or detriment to brand? It would be nice to see Goodell and Kensil have to open up their cell phones and emails on the "fairness" of process over the Wells report and obviously leaked misinformation. At this point, suspension or not, if Goddell is so hell bent to protect his power, I think TB12 should be hell bent on exposing their witch hunt.

Kyle Witkoski

Short answer? Nothing. Brady could do just as you are suggesting. But, it could be a long, costly, annoying, obtrusive road to go down. He would open up the NFL guys you mentioned to discovery and scrutiny, but in doing so would open himself up as well. If that's acceptable and worth it to him, then maybe that's an option at some point. That's totally up to him and how he feels as this crazy process wears on.

Andy Hart

Hi guys, greetings from Israel! Lots of fans over here...My question is why do people worry so much about the running game? We get James Develin back, who was crucial in past, and who is one of TB12's favorite players, and don't you think Joey Iosefa can develop in to the power back for short-yardage situation?

Love the show

Ben W.G.

Two Develin questions in one week!!! I love it. That said, I don't think he can solve the running game issues by himself. He can make it better, but to be frank he's not an elite blocker at this point in his development. As for Iosefa, he was cut last week. I never saw what fans saw in him and never really thought he was the answer, either. I do hope the running game is better this season. Maybe that comes thanks to Scarnecchia's return, improved health on the offensive line, development of guys like Mason/Jackson and a resurgent effort from Blount. Maybe it comes from some late addition to the roster this summer. I just hope it comes somehow and some way. I think it would be a big boost to the Brady-led attack. It certainly would help the Garoppolo-led attack if it comes to that.

Andy Hart

I realize that this may sound like a stretch. But I believe (with good reason) that Jimmy G. is going to perform above expectations in the first 4 games. Part of the reason is because BB drafted a QB. And the other part is because he is ready to step up in pure Patriot Fashion! Do you believe that it possible to have a QB controversy in NE? Remember, you heard it from TB in Fla. First!

Thomas Butler

I do not see any QB controversy in New England. I won't rule out an impressive four-game stretch from Garoppolo. In that case, the best case scenario, his trade value is greatly increased. Maybe after that you can deal him for a – dream case – first-round pick. Then Jacoby Brissett slides into the developmental backup role behind Brady, who shows no signs of slowing down. I'll remember where I first heard about the QB controversy, though. And give you credit/blame if I we ever actually talk about it in any serious way. I don't see any way that happens.

Andy Hart

Now it seems most likely that Brady will miss the first four games, and the disgusting way Brady has been treated by the NFL, do you think it is time that Mr. Kraft gave up his work with the NFL and concentrate on the Pats.

Bob Sears

Mr. Kraft's work for the NFL is working for the Patriots. They are one in the same. When the NFL succeeds, grows and makes more money it helps the Patriots and Kraft's interests. That's the reality and the model the NFL works under. Also, when has Mr. Kraft not concentrated on the Patriots? It's the best franchise in the league by far and shows no signs of slowing down. That doesn't happen by accident, it happens with Mr. Kraft's leadership, guidance and decision making.

Andy Hart

Hey guys,

Love your articles. This may be a silly question on my part but I was just wondering how you guys felt about this. I know Tom Brady says he wants to play until around age 45(I think) but do you really think he's gonna be able to last that long? Could this be possibly why they drafted Brissett this year? Don't the majority of most quarterbacks usually retire after 40? I'm having a hard time remembering any QBs that played after 40. The only one I can really think of is Warren Moon. Don't get me wrong. I love Brady I just don't think he's gonna be able to play as long as he thinks he can.


Todd Patton

There have been plenty of QBs who've played into their 40s – in various roles with various levels of success – but most passers certainly retire before then. Brett Favre and Peyton Manning both had late-career success. Others were simply backups like former Patriots Vinny Testaverde and Doug Flutie. I don't personally believe that Brady will be elite or even play until he's 45. But he's still a long way from that. He has four years left under his new contract extension. That will take him until he's 42. At this point it's not completely crazy, given the way he's played of late and the way he takes care of himself, to think he could play at a relatively high level until this contract runs out. Brissett was drafted for simple reasons. New England needed a third QB. They will need a No. 2 QB, in all likelihood in the near future. And if all goes right maybe he's the potential heir to Brady. That, and it's always good business to develop and draft QBs. Or at least that's what they say, I'm not sure it's really played out that way much in the NFL in recent years.

Andy Hart

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