2017 Patriots Training Camp Position Battles: Running Back

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 16: James White
FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 16: James White /

As training camp is set to begin the New England Patriots still do not have a clear starting running back, as each player has a ton of different talents.

The New England Patriots offense is going to be explosive this season, and each running back on the roster should have their own role to play.

Questions still exist as to who the Patriots starter will be, although it seems to be a two-man battle between Mike Gillislee and James White. Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis will have a chance to make their case to be the starter this week and going forward in training camp as well.

In the final part of my 5 part series covering the biggest battles that exist heading into Patriots training camp, I’ll give you my thoughts on who I believe will win the starting job. My thoughts on the No. 3 cornerback, No. 3 wide receiver, outside linebackers, and defensive lineman are all available for your viewing pleasure. Without any more hub bub, here’s my take on New England’s running back situation.

James White

2016 Regular Season: 16 Games, 39 Rushes, 166 Yards, 60 Receptions, 551 Yards, 5 Touchdowns

2016 Playoffs: 3 Games, 7 Rushes, 29 Yards, 2 Touchdowns, 18 Receptions, 137 Yards, 2 Touchdowns

James White was huge in Super Bowl LI, but prior to that, his numbers were rather pedestrian. He proved he is the ultimate weapon catching the ball out of the backfield which took away from Dion Lewis’ role a bit. In 2017, White will likely carry the ball more as the team aims to replace workhorse LeGarrette Blount. White will also be called upon once again in big third down situations, as he became one of Brady’s favorite targets down the stretch.

Right now, he’s in the two-man battle for the top spot in the Patriots backfield. It may come down to whether New England wants a pass-catcher or a true runner behind Tom Brady to open things up.

Mike Gillislee

2016 Regular Season: 15 Games, 101 Rushes, 577 Yards, 8 Touchdowns, 9 Receptions, 50 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 1 Fumble

Mike Gillislee has the best shot at taking the starting role out of James White’s hands. Last season with the Bills, Gillislee averaged 5.7 yards per rush, which is outrageous. He should have an even better offensive line in front of him and he’s playing on a much better offense in 2017, so he could get even better.

Gillislee has the potential to be a breakout star for the Patriots according to 247 Sports.

"“Gillislee will serve as the Patriots’ physical runner taking goal-line and short yardage situations almost exclusively, while also getting a good chunk of carries on first and second down. While consistency may be an issue for Gillislee in terms of his production, that most likely will speak more to how the Patriots operate the backfield rather than how the former Buffalo Bills back is playing.One week it could be a pass happy affair with James White being highlighted and another week could call for Rex Burkhead‘s skillset. Nevertheless, Gillislee is poised to take his new team by storm.”"

Dion Lewis

2016 Regular Season: 7 Games, 64 Rushes, 283 Yards, 17 Receptions, 94 Yards, 1 Fumble

2016 Playoffs: 3 Games, 25 Rushes, 79 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 5 Receptions, 33 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 1 Fumble

Dion Lewis is in an odd spot as James White proved he can catch the ball and the Patriots brought in Rex Burkhead, who fills a similar role. Still, I think he will make the team and contribute when called upon, though some believe his roster spot is in jeopardy.

Keep this fun fact in mind though, the Patriots are 17-0 when Lewis is in their lineup.

ESPN‘s Patriots reporter Mike Reiss thinks Lewis should be a lock to make the team.

"“Some might ask the question: Is Lewis really a lock? To me, he adds an element of explosiveness and quickness that isn’t otherwise on the roster at the position. Also, the Patriots are 17-0 in games Lewis has played over the last two years. While that isn’t all because of Lewis, it’s a reflection, in part, on his impact.”"

Rex Burkhead

2016 Regular Season: 16 Games, 74 Rushes, 344 Yards, 2 Touchdowns, 17 Receptions, 145 Yards, 2 Fumbles

Rex Burkhead was the biggest addition to the Patriots offense until they acquired Brandin Cooks and Mike Gillislee. Gillislee’s signing specifically should push Burkhead down the roster a bit.

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Burkhead should get his chances in the backfield but he will definitely factor into New England’s special teams game plan.

It also seems like Burkhead has begun to learn the ‘Patriots Way’ as he had this to say when he sat down with WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton.

"“Keep your mouth shut, do your job. Every single day is a competition and the expectations are high. You have to be ready to go. You can never be off your game. You have to step in and be ready to work. That’s why they’ve had success in the past and that’s why I’m here.”"

My pick to be the Patriots starting running back

James White.

He earned the starting role with his play in the Super Bowl alone. I also believe Mike Gillislee will be utilized more on goal line and short yardage situations. The Patriots offense should want to come out with TB12 firing, so James White is the best choice. New England will simply have too many weapons on the field with White, Gronk, Cooks, and Edelman for defenses to be able to keep up.

Next: Patriots Training Camp Battles: Outside Linebacker

Gillislee will still tally plenty of scores and Burkhead and Lewis should also be worked into the rotation, but for now, I believe the starting role is James White’s to lose.