While the Patriots offense has a number of serious question marks, such as with the receiver corps and offensive line, the one area where they have a plethora of talent is at the running back position. Despite losing Dion Lewis in free agency, the team may have a more talented backfield than 2017 after signings and draft day added Sony Michel, Jeremy Hill, and Ralph Webb to a running back room that already included James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, and Brandon Bolden.
White, Burkhead, and Michel are all locks to make the roster (Michel could end up on IR depending on the severity of his knee issues, though this seems unlikely). This leaves one to two spots left, depending on how many running backs Belichick plans on keeping. Bolden seems likely to retain his roster spot because of his heavy contributions to special teams and his ability to run the ball moderately well when called upon. Gillislee, Webb, and Hill are likely battling for that last spot, and Hill seems to be far ahead in the competition.
In preseason game number one against the Redskins, Hill showed flashes of why he was so successful in his first few years in Cincinnati. He finished with 11 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown, as well as two catches for 14 yards. He showed impressive vision and good explosion, following his blockers and making well-timed cuts when necessary. Despite his size and label as a “heavy” back, he also showed nimbleness in the passing game, making two defenders miss on one reception that went for 12 yards. Most importantly, however, Hill likely made the very small highlight reel from the game after leveling a blitzing Redskins linebacker while in pass protection.
The Patriots place a high value on running backs who are versatile and can be used in a variety of different ways. Last Thursday’s game highlighted Hill’s ability to run, catch, and block, making him look extremely versatile and valuable. In comparison, Gillislee looked pedestrian. Despite one decent run, Gillislee’s presence was not particularly noteworthy. The only play that sticks out in my mind was one where he chose to try to cut up the field instead of following James Develin around the outside and was stopped for no gain instead of picking up what would have been a huge chunk of yards. 2018 Mike Gillislee is not separating himself from 2017 Mike Gillislee that spent most of the year as a healthy scratch.
Ralph Webb’s success is the one thing that is stopping Hill from running away with the roster spot. The undrafted rookie had 14 rushes for 14 yards and two touchdowns, as well as a two-point conversion. He looked elusive and played stronger than his size would indicate. I would still give Hill the edge because of his success blocking and receiving, but don’t count out Webb just yet.
Until next time – B$