The New England Patriots found the versatile running back they were searching for in the 2014 NFL draft.
The Patriots selected Wisconsin running back James White in the fourth round (No. 130 overall) of the draft Saturday. White can back up workhorse running back Stevan Ridley and third-down back Shane Vereen, since the Badgers product proved during his four-year college career that he can run, block and catch out of the backfield.
White might not excel at any one facet of the game, but he’s a much more versatile reserve than LeGarrette Blount, who wasn’t trusted on third down last season.
Over the next two weeks, NESN.com will dissect each position to see how the Patriots’ depth chart stacks up now that the draft and the undrafted free-agent signing period are over. We’ll break down roster locks, players on the bubble and practice-squad candidates.
Let’s see how the Patriots look at running back going into the spring.
Roster locks: Vereen, Ridley, White
On the bubble: Brandon Bolden, James Develin
Practice-squad candidates: Stephen Houston, Roy Finch, Jonas Gray
Vereen is the biggest lock to make the roster, since he’s been a solid performer in his three-year career despite some injury woes. Ridley is the only obvious workhorse back on the roster, but Bill Belichick lost confidence in the fourth-year pro last season after he dealt with fumbling issues. It would take a very rough training camp for White to be released.
I’d changed to this: White had 643 carries for 4,015 yards with 45 touchdowns in four years with the Badgers, and added 73 catches for 670 yards and three TDs. At 5-foot-9, 204 pounds, he’s slightly undersized for a between-the-tackles runner in the NFL, though he proved capable in the Big Ten. He had limited success as a kick returner in college.
Bolden and Develin served their roles well last season and should make the 53-man roster if they have strong training camps. It would take an impressive summer from an undrafted rookie to supplant them on the roster.
Indiana’s Houston and Oklahoma’s Finch were signed as undrafted free agents Monday. Houston ran for 2,304 yards on 424 carries with 25 touchdowns and also had 65 receptions for 658 yards with four TDs in three seasons with the Hoosiers. At 5-foot-10, 225 pounds, he could compete with Bolden as the backup to Ridley. Houston also has limited kick return experience in college.
Finch could have a tough time in the NFL at 5-foot-6, 177 pounds, but he was productive in limited reps at Oklahoma with 262 carries for 1,412 yards with six touchdowns and 58 receptions for 442 yards and two touchdowns.
Finch would be one of the smallest players in the NFL, but he plays like a little pinball on the field.
Finch could contribute as a returner — he had 1,099 yards and one touchdown on 43 returns.
The Patriots signed Gray as a futures free agent after the 2013 season ended. He went undrafted out of Notre Dame in 2012 and spent time with the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Gray has an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster, but he was productive as a senior with the Fighting Irish, running for 791 yards on 114 carries with 12 touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 230-pound running back certainly has the bulk to be a bell cow.
The Patriots were slightly more loaded at running back last season with Blount going into the year as depth, but players such as White, Houston and Finch offer more versatility than the 250-pound bruiser. Bolden was forced to serve as the team’s third-down back when Vereen broke his wrist last season. If Vereen goes down in 2014, White likely would fill in on passing downs as a blocker and receiver.
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