When the 2010 season began, New England's top ball carriers on the depth chart were Laurence Maroneyand Kevin Faulk. Two weeks later, Maroney was shipped to Denver and Faulk landed on IR with a knee injury.
Serendipitously, the Patriots had plucked Danny Woodheadoff the street just days before Faulk's injury, and the former Jet filled the bill as New England's third-down back to perfection. Maroney's departure, meantime, paved the way for BenJarvus Green-Ellisto emerge from the depth chart cellar and become the first Patriot since Corey Dillon to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Elder statesmen Sammy Morrisand Fred Taylorcontributed sparingly throughout the year, as the Patriots offense relied on the younger Green-Ellis and Woodhead to shoulder the burden on the ground.
This is clearly a position in transition for New England, which could look to target another back or two in free agency and/or the NFL Draft in April.
THE RUNNING BACK ROSTER
(Players listed alphabetically, as of January 2011, with individual analysis below)
22 – Thomas Clayton
Poor guy spent more time traveling between here and Cleveland over the last six months, after being released and reclaimed by the Patriots and Browns numerous times. But he finally made the active roster here in New England toward the end of the season and got some snaps against Miami in the regular season finale. He's a tough player with some versatility, which could win him another shot at a full-time gig in Foxborough. He's currently signed through '11.
33 – Kevin Faulk
Even before the injury and Woodhead's emergence, Faulk's football future was punctuated by a question mark. This only adds to the uncertainty. Chances are 50-50 the co-captain gives it one more go.
42 – BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Had a breakout performance in '10, but there's still no guarantee he'll be the lead back in '11. His reliability, however, should guarantee him a job as a Patriot.
44 – Eric Kettani
The Navy Midshipman remains on the team's reserve/military list, where he's been the past two seasons. The list is used for any player who is actively involved with the Armed Forces and therefore cannot play out his NFL contract, which is held in abeyance (paused, if you will) until such time as he can fulfill it. Kettani is not paid and does not count against New England's roster limit. He's a long-shot to be a factor for the Patriots in '11. He did, however, make a surprise appearance at Patriots practice on Veterans Day to help motivate his teammates to beat the Steelers that weekend.
34 – Sammy Morris
Morris played out the final year on his current contract and may have suited up for the final time as a Patriot.
21 – Fred Taylor
All indications are that this truly professional player has played his last NFL game. A well-deserved retirement is in his immediate future, it seems.
39 – Danny Woodhead
The little engine that could, did. Picked up in September, he'd done enough to earn a contract extension by Thanksgiving. Woody is inked through 2012 and appears to have a very bright future in New England.
Up next in the Position Snapshot series: linebacker, coming Wednesday, Feb 2. Tomorrow on patriots.com, an all-new Debate Friday. And Monday, a Patriots-related recap of the Pro Bowl.