3. Rhamondre Stevenson
When the 2022 season began, Rhamondre Stevenson was penciled in to share the backfield duties with Damien Harris. It made sense, too, seeing that the former was only entering his second year while Harris had just racked up over 1,000 yards and 15 TDs from scrimmage in the previous season.
Harris’ injury woes prevent an even split, forcing Stevenson to assume a bigger responsibility. Fortunately, he took the opportunity and ran away with it — literally.
Stevenson finished the year with 1,040 rushing yards and five TDs on 210 carries while also hauling in 69 receptions for an additional 421 yards and another score. His 1,461 total yards from scrimmage ranked eighth-most among RBs.
Even with three-time Pro Bowl rush Ezekiel Elliott joining the backfield, I don’t expect any regression from Stevenson.
As solid as Elliott can be, Stevenson is the better pass-catcher and more suited for a three-down role. ‘Zeke’ will see a fair amount of action at the goal line, but not to the point where his younger counterpart will be obsolete.
Considering what he was able to accomplish last year when the Patriots’ attack left much to be desired, look for Stevenson to take another leap forward in a healthy offense.
2. Kyle Dugger
Although McCourty’s retirement stung many Patriots fans, the blow would’ve been much worse if the team didn’t already have Kyle Dugger.
The 27-year-old, drafted at No. 37 in 2020, is one of New England’s most versatile defenders, playing key roles when it comes to run and pass defense. In fact, he was just one of four safeties last season to finish with a PFF grade of 75.0 or better against the run and in coverage.
That’s without mentioning how his 78.4 overall grade ranked eighth among safeties who played at least 700 defensive snaps.
Dugger’s stat line further shows how he does it all. He broke up eight passes and led the NFL with two Pick-6s while even recovering a fumble for a 59-yard touchdown. He even recorded 26 blitzes and three pressures, proving that he isn’t afraid of joining the pass rush.
I’d be shocked if Dugger doesn’t have another lights-out performance this fall. He’s set to become a free agent once the season ends and will likely give it his all to try and cash in on a big payday. The Patriots would be insane not to lock him down, but everyone knows that Belichick needs proof that the last campaign wasn’t a fluke.
All signs point to Dugger being legit, though, so proving himself, yet again, won’t be an issue. If he can work on allowing fewer touchdowns, don’t be surprised if he challenges for the No. 1 spot on the 2024 list.