Current Situation: Sony Michel is the starter, with James White as the passing-down back, Rex Burkhead as the ultimate spell-option, and Damian Harris as a developmental back.
Level of Need: Low
SHS Take: I’d be shocked if the Patriots took a back early, but I said the same thing last year and they took Damian Harris in the third round. My prediction would be that Burkhead gets cut, and Damian Harris’s role is elevated. If they see good value in a back in the late rounds I might pull the trigger on one, but I wouldn’t use an early pick.
Early Round Fits
Clyde Edwards-Helaire – Junior, LSU, 5’7″, 207 lbs
Edwards-Helaire is what everyone projected Sony Michel to be. An explosive, three-down back combined with breakaway speed and natural hands. With nearly 2,000 total offensive yards in 2019, CEH has great vision and the ability to make people miss downfield. Throw in outstanding ball security (zero fumbles throughout his college career), and you have a nearly perfect Patriots running back fit. His weaknesses are a lack of catch radius at 5’7″, pass blocking and power at the goal line and short yardage. Edwards-Helaire was only the full-time starter for one year, so unlike Michel, he has a lot of tread left on his tires.
Projection: Mid 2nd to late 3rd
NFL Comparison: Dalvin Cook
J.K. Dobbins – Junior, Ohio State, 5’9″, 209 lbs
A tough runner who plays through just about anything, Dobbins is a guy you would want to go to war with. At just 209 lbs, Dobbins doesn’t possess elite size, but he runs with violence and a chip on his shoulder. He has solid breakaway speed and will run through your face if you let him. He isn’t incredibly elusive but can make safeties miss downfield with relative ease. Dobbins will need to adjust to an NFL offense, as he played in the spread for the Buckeyes, but once he adjusts to playing in a single backfield, he’s going to be dangerous.
Projection: Late 2nd to early 3rd
NFL Comparison: Devonta Freeman
Mid Round Fits
Darius “Jet” Anderson – Senior, TCU, 5’10”, 208 lbs
A shifty and explosive back, Anderson’s strengths lie with his ability to make people miss in space and find daylight downfield. Anderson benefited significantly from playing in TCU’s spread offense in a zone-blocking scheme. He lacks the vision and size to be an every-down back, but his quickness will give him a role in almost any offense. The former Horned Frog improved on his receiving skills in 2019, hauling in 22 passes. Anderson will likely make himself known as a passing-down back as well as a kick and punt returner. If the Patriots are looking for a developmental third-down back, Anderson fits the mold.
Projection: Early 3rd to late 4th
A.J. Dillon – Junior, Boston College, 6’0″, 247 lbs
The New England native and former NEPSAC star had an excellent junior campaign, rushing for nearly 1,700 yards on over 300 carries. Dillon is an absolute moose at 247 pounds with the ability to both run over defenders and dash away from them with a very impressive 4.53 forty time. Backs with this kind of combination of size and speed don’t come along often, and Dillon could end up being the steal of this draft. Dillon runs like a raging bull, taking linebackers and safeties as his victims. Playing in a pro-style offense at BC will allow for a smooth transition to the NFL. Dillon could undoubtedly be a day one starter as an early-down thumper. The downside to Dillon is his lack of great agility and his heavy workload in college. Dillon toted the rock over 800 times during his time as an Eagle, which could put limitations on his career longevity. Nonetheless, Dillon has strong upside as a bell-cow back.
Projection: Late 3rd to early 5th
NFL Comparison: Derrick Henry
Late Round Fits
Antonio Gibson – Senior, Memphis, 6’0″, 228 lbs
Gibson worked as both a running back and receiver over his career at Memphis and can be used all over the field. A fascinating prospect at 228 pounds and a sub 4.4 forty time, Gibson’s measurements will have scouts salivating at his potential. He was a monster in the open field playing in a spread offense that maximized his skill set and prioritized getting him the ball with room to run. The Georgia native will probably be used as a gadget player in the NFL due to his lack of polish at both running back and receiver, but in today’s NFL, those types of guys are becoming more and more important. His combine numbers could also make him a prime special teams candidate. McDaniels would have a lot of fun finding ways to get Gibson the ball if they were able to nab him.
Projection: Late 5th to late 7th
NFL Comparison: Cordarrelle Patterson/Curtis Samuel
Anthony McFarland – Redshirt Sophomore, Maryland, 5’8″, 208 lbs
McFarland’s production at Maryland wasn’t overly productive (just over 1,000 yards), but when he got the ball in his hands he was electric, averaging 7.9 yards per carry. The Maryland native is a tough runner despite his below-average size and is pretty elusive in the second level. Injuries in both high school and college prevented McFarland from becoming an elite college back, but he still should be given the opportunity to prove himself at the next level. McFarland is an excellent receiver, and while he doesn’t have three-down back potential, he can certainly be used as a passing-down specialist and returner.
Projection: Early 5th to late 6th
NFL Comparison: Austin Ekler
*All stats via NFL.com and Walter Football