Patriots

2018 Patriots positional snapshot: RBs powered New England offense this past year, but what’s next?

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(John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

With the Patriots’ 2018 season done, we’re going to take a look back at the team by position, and provide a few thoughts as to what they might need at that spot moving forward. First up, it’s running back.

2018 depth chart: James White (94 carries, 425 rushing yards, 5 TDs; 87 catches, 751 receiving yards, 7 TDs), Sony Michel (209 carries, 931 yards, 6 TDs), Rex Burkhead (57 carries, 186 yards; 14 catches, 131 receiving yards, 1 TD), Jeremy Hill (4 carries, 25 yards).

Contract status: White (signed through 2020), Michel (signed through 2021 with a team option for 2022), Burkhead (signed through 2020), Hill (free agent).

[caption id="attachment_484626" align="alignnone" width="1600"] Burkhead and White were part of an impressive trio that included Michel. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)[/caption]

Overview: Even though there wasn’t a 1,000-yard rusher in the bunch — and even though they didn’t have Hill and Burkhead for much of the 2018 season — this will ultimately go down as one of the most valuable backfields in recent New England history. As the offense sputtered at times throughout the year, White was the only consistent presence for the full season — he was the first back in franchise history to become an 80-80 guy (80 catches, 80 carries in one season), setting a franchise record for receptions in a season by a running back (87). Bottom line? He was the unquestioned offensive MVP during the regular season. Meanwhile, Michel came close to being the first 1,000-yard rookie rusher (while playing in just 13 games) for New England since Robert Edwards hit the milestone in 1998. Buoyed by some great matchups and an occasionally overwhelming offensive line, this group carried the offense down the stretch and into the postseason. Ultimately, New England wasn’t a total ground-and-pound team, but when the Pats needed this group, it responded in a big way. It wasn’t the only reason they won the Super Bowl, but the fact New England averaged 160 rushing yards per game over the last nine games of the year (six regular-season and three postseason) wasn’t completely coincidental when you consider the Patriots’ success.

[caption id="attachment_488417" align="alignnone" width="1600"] Burkhead scored the game-winner in overtime against the Chiefs. (Adam Richins/BSJ Photo)[/caption]

By the numbers: Michel had 931 rushing yards in 13 games. Over the course of a 16-game season, that 71.6 yards per game average adds up to 1,146 rushing yards on the year. (By way of comparison, Saquon Barkley had 1,307 rushing yards this past season.)

A few thoughts about the position moving forward: