NEPD Staff Writer: CJ Sousa
What qualities do the Patriots care about most in a running back?
Is it the ability to pick up a blitz? Or what about the obvious speed, vision, power, and ball security? All of those may be in play, but if you look at it from a front office standpoint it seems to be all about the almighty dollar.
The Patriots aren’t afraid to spend money when they feel it’s necessary. This off-season alone, the team paid the price to ink stud cornerbacks Darrelle Revis (1 year, $12M) and Brandon Browner ( 3 years, $17M) to bolster their secondary. Clearly, the Patriots who may be known as “cheap” around the league aren’t afraid to spend money when the right opportunity presents itself.
Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are both 25 year old backs who have showed at times great promise in this league. Particularly Ridley, who has tallied 2,477 yards and 20 touchdowns in four NFL seasons. He also has quite an impressive 4.5 yards per carry. One would assume a player who has produced this much will remain in the organization for a long time. An in fact, that could not be farther from the truth with New England.
Look no farther then last offseason. The Patriots watched Legarrette Blount, arguably their offensive MVP last season sign a measly 2 year $3.85M deal with AFC rival Pittsburgh. A season before the Patriots let Danny Woodhead, a critical part of the Patriots offense especially receiving out of the backfield, take the high road out of town for a 2 year $3.75M with the Chargers. In 2011, the Patriots let the lawfirm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis walk for a decent contract to Cincinnati, 3 years worth $9M. Green-Ellis had been a very productive player, rushing for over 1,600 yards and 24 touchdowns in his final two seasons. I could go on, but you all get the point. The Patriots have little interest in paying running backs.
Currently, the Patriots have three running backs approaching contract years in their rookie deals with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden. A good bet is that maybe one of these guys will be in Foxborough next season. The team drafted James White in 2014, who has generated plenty of buzz during camp. The remaining backs on the roster next year could consist of Tyler Gaffney, 6th round pick of Carolina in 2014, Roy Finch, and yeah, you see the problem.
There is a good bet the Patriots will be taking a running back in the 2015 draft, maybe even two as they did with Ridley and Vereen in 2011. Here are some guys to watch in the upcoming college football season.
Todd Gurley – Georgia: In my opinion, Gurley is far and away best running back prospect in college football. Think of Marshawn Lynch, but faster, then maybe you have a good picture of Gurley. The 6’1, 231 lbs back from Georgia has rushed for 2,374 yards and 27 touchdowns in the most difficult conference in college football. His power, vision and speed from a back of his size is terrifying in the open field. The only thing to slow Gurley so far has been some slight injuries, but if he can stay healthy he should contend for the Heisman and be a first round pick.
Mike Davis – South Carolina: Gurley gets all of the talk and hype in the SEC, as he should, but I believe Davis can be the number two running back prospect in the spring. Davis wastes little motion, hits the hole hard, and has deceptive speed. Davis is a bowling ball type of runner, standing at 5’9 and 223 lbs. Davis has rushed for 1,458 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons.
Melvin Gordon – Wisconsin: Point blank, Gordon is one of the most explosive players in college football. He is shifty in the hole, and tends to get the most out of his runs. Gordon exploaded onto the scene last year rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns. Whats even more impressive about that, James White, fourth round pick of the Patriots, ran the ball 221 times for the Badgers. Gordon can shine even in a crowded back field, and is expected to contend for the Heisman this season.
TJ Yeldon – Alabama: The 6’2 221 lbs Alabama back is the latest Tide ball carrier to gain national interest. Yeldon has ran for 2,343 yards and 26 touchdowns, nearly identical stats to his SEC counterpart Todd Gurley. Yeldon is shifty with good size, speed and vision. Unfortunately for Yeldon, he may not be the best running back on his own team. Electric sophomore Derrick Henry is expected to at worst split carriers with Yeldon this season. Henry has phenomenal size and speed, and may take the Heisman home this year if all goes to plan. He is the better pro prospect in my opinion, but he is not draft eligible this year, so we wont worry about him just yet. Is Yeldon truely great? Or is he the product of a great offensive line combined with stellar QB play. We may not find out until Yeldon is a rookie.
Duke Johnson – Miami (FL): Duke Johnson is quite the special talent. The 5’9 206lbs back had a great season last year. Johnson had 920 yards and 6 touchdowns when his season was cut short after eight games. Johnson put on 20 lbs this offseason to become more durable for the Canes. Even more impressive, Coach Al Golden has said Johnson actually got faster too. Look for Johnson to emerge as a top prospect for next years draft.
Other running backs to keep an eye on are Karlos Williams (Florida State), Malcolm Brown (Texas), Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska), Marlin Lane (Tennessee) and two small school guys I like a lot, Rob Holloman (Central Connecticut State) and Malcolm Agnew (S. Illinois).