Bill Belichick has never been the kind of coach who insists on doing things just one way. Take his approach to running the football as an example.
In the past he's had workhorses such as Antowain Smith, Corey Dillon and LeGarrette Blount, and he's also featured committee backfields where several players receive significant carries throughout the season. 2018 is shaping up to be a season where the latter approach is likely.
The Patriots lost Dion Lewis, last year's leading rusher, to free agency but return Rex Burkhead, James White and Mike Gillislee to the mix. The team also signed veteran Jeremy Hill from Cincinnati, and then Belichick drafted Sony Michel with his second of two first-round picks.
That makes five running backs with diverse skills who all could be factors in the Patriots offense this season. With all that in mind we tried to figure out exactly how that might unfold once the season gets underway.
This week's Samsonite Make Your Case question is: Who will lead the Patriots in rushing this season?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Bill Belichick doesn't often use first-round picks on running backs so he must feel pretty strongly about Michel's ability. After watching him play at Georgia last year, it's easy to see why that may be the case.
Michel has a nice blend of size (5-11, 215) and speed, and he also showed the ability to get out of the backfield and contribute as a receiver during his college days. Those sound like the exact traits that would allow a back to thrive in the Patriots offensive system that often takes advantage of mismatches with backs working against linebackers in space.
Obviously he's just a rookie so it might take Michel some time to get acclimated, but running backs often make a quick transition to the NFL, and if he stays healthy he'll get plenty of opportunities to succeed in New England.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
I love the potential that Sony Michel brings to the offense but I also was impressed with what Burkhead accomplished last season. He showed he was capable of contributing both as a runner and receivers in 2017, and he'll get plenty of chances to do so again this year.
The only concern with Burkhead is durability. Injuries limited his production during his days with the Bengals and again last season when he played in only 10 games. If he can stay healthy, he has the ability to enjoy a career season.
I believe Bill Belichick will likely rotate his backs and use the committee approach he's featured periodically in the past, so I don't envision any Patriots back racking up 1,500 yards on the ground. But at the end of the season it will be Burkhead serving as the leader of that committee.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.