In the lead-up to training camp, we're inspecting the Patriots roster position by position. Today, an examination of the running backs.
Locks: Sony Michel; Rex Burkhead; James White; Damien Harris
Bubble: Brandon Bolden; Danny Vitale
In the Mix: Jakob Johnson; J.J. Taylor
ANALYSIS: The Patriots return their same core backfield, with Danny Vitale being signed to replace the retired James Develin. While a talented group that played a big part in the team's sixth championship in 2018, their rushing DVOA fell to 16th in the league in 2019, their worst mark in three seasons and one of their most inefficient performances in 20 years.
Can 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel rebound with a new fullback and a healthy offensive line in front of him? If not, 2019 third-rounder Damien Harris should push for early-down snaps while Rex Burkhead enters the last year of his deal as an effective two-way threat but he's battled injuries though his first three seasons with the team.
James White remains one of the best passing-down backs in the game. He fell off from his incredible 2018 production but still had the second-most productive season of his career in 2019. Still just 28, White enters the last year of the three-year extension he signed in 2018 and should take on an even bigger leadership role on offense.
Brandon Bolden returned after a one-year hiatus in Miami and became the team's kickoff returner while chipping in with 15 carries and as a top special teams leader. Undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor is tiny in stature but is an aggressive and balanced running back who could make some noise this summer as well.
Vitale figures to compete with Jakob Johnson at the fullback spot. Johnson was one of the most surprising stories of the 2019 preseason, making the team as an international exemption and playing in four games before a shoulder injury ended his year. He'll have the same international exemption designation this summer. Vitale is a four-year veteran and a plus receiver who could add a different element to the offense than Develin did.
Though this is a deep and respected group, they'll be heavily counted on to bounce back this season and keep the offense on time for the new quarterback. Health is paramount, while Harris is a wild card who could push the unit to new levels. White will once again be a key feature of the offense and a vital component of the quarterback transition.