2 weeks of the preseason have come and gone. Only 2 weeks of the preseason are left. 2 weeks before Bill Belichick has to finish cutting his roster down to the league standard 53-man roster. With a team as talented as the Patriots, it will be hard to make some final decisions.
Since the start of training camp and after the previous 2 games, a few names have been tossed around. Players who will make the roster, players who won’t, and players that may end up as casualties of tough decisions.
A few names have been tossed around here. Who makes the roster here with so many talented backs on the roster? Traditionally, the Patriots have not held too many running backs on the roster, usually around 4. This year, however, could be an exception to the rule.
Super Bowl hero James White, Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, and LeShun Daniels Jr. are fighting for a roster spot. White and Gilislee are generally thought to be locks to make the roster, and after the Texans game, so is Rex. Even Bolden is considered to be fairly safe due to his special teams contributions and ability to be a serviceable back-up.
Dion Lewis is surprisingly on the bubble. It is understood that Daniels and Foster might be casualties of roster cuts, yet Lewis is absolutely electric with the ball. Or, at least he was in 2015 before he went down with a torn ACL. Last season Lewis missed a chunk of the season as he was recovering from the ACL injury, and received a lighter work load when he did return. However, in the divisional round against the Texans, Lewis had a breakout game and proved his worth. When healthy, Lewis can be a game changing back. The problem is that Lewis has had plenty of injury issues. However, it would come as a shock if Lewis gets cut. Bill loves versatility, and that is what you get with Dion. With “Lil’ Dirty” on the field, the defense does not know whether the Patriots are planning to run or to pass.
Instead, do not expect Bolden’s job to be safe. Sure, he is a special teams stud and a complementary piece in the offense, but it is possible he will be cut. Bolden’s contributions on special teams can be filled by younger prospects with higher ceilings. Burkhead in particular can not only serve as a direct replacement, but possibly an upgrade. In Cincinnati, Rex was also a special teams stud but showed flashes on offense in limited play. On only 74 carries, Rex rushed for 344 yards.
On the other hand, Bolden had a whopping 1 carry for 4 yards in 2016. The sixth-year pro was a complete non-factor in the Patriots’ offense this past season. However, this can possibly be attributed to the Patriots being healthier overall last season than in 2015. In 2015, Bolden was used on offense a bit more after LeGarrette Blount suffered an injury, tallying 63 rushes for 207 yards. Either way, it is possible that the Patriots part ways with this special teams stud.
Not too much is known about Foster on an NFL level. What is known is that it seems that Bill Belichick seems to like this kid very much. After all, Foster was on the active roster for a vast majority of the season, even though he barely saw any time on the field. The point, however, was clear: Bill Belichick did not want another team to steal Foster from the practice squad.
What else is known is that Foster is a running back/wide receiver hybrid, having played both in college. Can you hear that? Sounds like another versatile piece on the Patriots. The next thing that is known is that Foster is having a good preseason. But will it be good enough to save Foster?
As much as Bill seems to like this kid, it could be that Foster may become a victim of a tight talented roster. Simply put, the Patriots roster is extremely tight with talented players. Foster can definitely play, yet he may end up playing on another team.
LeShun Daniels Jr.
Daniels was one of the free agents that the Patriots signed after the draft. Daniels is a one-cut, downhill runner, akin to LeGarrette Blount. For all his praise about versatility, Belichick still seems to like having a big bruising back, especially at the goal line. With Blount gone, the Patriots could see Daniels as a possible replacement. If LeShun makes the roster, that is. With the talent ahead of him, it seems very unlikely.
Contrary to past seasons, I believe the Patriots will carry 5 running backs on the roster. My prediction for the running back group would be Gilislee, White, Burkhead, Lewis, and Foster. That means that Bolden and Daniels would be cut, in my opinion. Perhaps Bolden will make the roster instead of Foster.
Many people believe that Gillislee will be the workhorse back next season, replacing Blount. While possible and even probable, the Patriots could lean more towards the running back by committee approach. I believe Burkhead will surprise people with how many touches he gets, and possibly compete with Gillislee for the starting role. With a roster like the Patriots, and a coach like Belichick, it is really impossible to predict what will actually happen.