Patriots Skill-Position Projections: Running Back Production Uncertain

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The New England Patriots’ offense has been one of the NFL’s most prolific since Tom Brady took over as quarterback in 2001, but running backs — and Bill Belichick’s usage of them — has miffed fantasy football owners for years.

Will that change this year? Maybe.

Dion Lewis will begin the 2016 season on the physically unable to perform list, knocking him out for at least six weeks. LeGarrette Blount is expected to take over early-down and goal-line reps until — and if — Lewis comes back. James White, a 2014 fourth-round pick, is expected to fill the Patriots’ third-down role, but he has rookie D.J. Foster and former second-round pick Bishop Sankey — a practice squad player — breathing down his neck.

Let’s go through some Patriots skill-position projections as Week 1 nears.

QUARTERBACKS
Tom Brady
ESPN: 3,390.1 yards, 25.3 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 21.8 rushing yards, 1.5 rushing touchdowns
Yahoo!: 3,448 yards, 24.7 touchdowns, 8.5 interceptions, 37.3 rushing yards, .5 rushing touchdowns
These projections seem slightly low for Brady, given his multitude of receiving weapons this season. I’d expect Brady to throw for around 3,500 yards with 26 or 27 touchdowns, despite his four-game suspension.

Jimmy Garoppolo
ESPN: 944.3 yards, 7.3 touchdowns, 3.7 interceptions, 62.6 rushing yards, .5 rushing touchdowns
Yahoo!: 1,130 yards, 8.2 touchdowns, 3.1 interceptions, 33.6 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdowns
I’d lean more toward the Yahoo! projections for Garoppolo. I’d expect at least 250 yards and two touchdowns per game. The interception numbers look right.

RUNNING BACKS
LeGarrette Blount:
ESPN: 912.9 rushing yards, 6.5 rushing touchdowns, 4.4 receptions, 32.7 receiving yards, .2 receiving touchdowns
Yahoo!: 988 rushing yards, 6.7 rushing touchdowns, 11.5 receptions, 75.3 receiving yards, .4 receiving touchdowns
Blount’s season totals depend heavily on when Dion Lewis can return. If Lewis is back after six weeks, Blount can’t be counted on to run for nearly 1,000 yards. If Lewis is out all season, and Blount stays healthy, 1,000 yards could be in reach, but I wouldn’t count on it. Yahoo!’s receiving projection seems more reliable, since the Patriots have thrown to Blount more in the preseason.

James White
ESPN: 139.1 rushing yards, 1.1 rushing touchdowns, 31.4 receptions, 290 receiving yards, 1.2 receiving touchdowns
Yahoo!: 167 rushing yards, 1.1 rushing touchdowns, 49.2 receptions, 493 receiving yards, 4.8 receiving touchdowns
White’s numbers also depend heavily on when Lewis returns. Nearly 500 receiving yards seems fair for White if Lewis misses at least 10 games. ESPN’s projection seems more reliable if Lewis plays half the season. Rookie D.J. Foster and practice squad running back Bishop Sankey also could eat into White’s touches.

Dion Lewis
ESPN: 198.3 rushing yards, 1.5 rushing touchdowns, 33.7 receptions, 297.8 receiving yards, 1.2 receiving touchdowns
Yahoo!: 244 rushing yards, .6 rushing touchdowns, 28.2 receptions, 255 receiving yards, .7 receiving touchdowns
It’s unclear when Lewis will be able to return from his knee surgery, but he hasn’t been a very dependable player throughout this NFL career. If he’s healthy, I’d expect more touchdowns than either project.

Brandon Bolden:
ESPN: 222.6 rushing yards, 1.8 rushing touchdowns, 8.7 receptions, 64.5 receiving yards, .3 touchdowns
Yahoo!: 0 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns, 0 receptions, 0 receiving yards, 0 touchdowns
Blount would have to go down for a few games for Bolden to pick up over 200 yards rushing. I’d project more receptions and receiving yards than ESPN in that scenario.

WIDE RECEIVERS
Julian Edelman
ESPN: 86.2 receptions, 922.1 receiving yards, 6.5 receiving touchdowns, 49.8 rushing yards, .2 rushing touchdowns
Yahoo!: 92 receptions, 988 receiving yards, 7.1 receiving touchdowns, 19.7 rushing yards, .1 rushing touchdowns
It appears ESPN and Yahoo! are counting on Edelman to stay healthy for 13 or 14 games this season, based on these numbers. The Patriots are hoping that’s the case.

Chris Hogan
ESPN: 52 receptions, 591.8 receiving yards, 4.9 receiving touchdowns, 12.5 rushing yards, .1 rushing touchdowns
Yahoo!: 38.3 receptions, 481 receiving yards, 3.4 receiving touchdowns, 0 rushing yards, 0 rushing touchdowns
Because of potential injuries to Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola, I think these projections are low. I’d expect closer to 700 receiving yards.

Malcolm Mitchell
ESPN: 17.5 receptions, 227.5 receiving yards, 1.5 receiving touchdowns
Yahoo!: 13.6 receptions, 180 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown
Yahoo!’s projection seems fair for a rookie receiver who likely is playing behind Edelman, Hogan and Amendola.

Danny Amendola
ESPN: 10.3 receptions, 133.1 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown, 12.5 rushing yards, .1 rushing touchdowns
Yahoo!: 22.6 receptions, 298 receiving yards, 1.3 receiving touchdowns, 17.2 rushing yards, .1 rushing touchdowns
Amendola is beginning the season off the PUP list, so I’d be a bit less conservative in my projections. I’d expect around 400 receiving yards.

TIGHT ENDS
Rob Gronkowski
ESPN: 76.5 receptions, 1119.8 receiving yards, 9.3 receiving touchdowns
Yahoo!: 78.5 receptions, 1131 receiving yards, 8.9 receiving touchdowns
These numbers look like ESPN and Yahoo! expect Gronkowski to stay healthy. If he does, he’ll get double-digit touchdowns.

Martellus Bennett
ESPN: 56.2 receptions, 591.8 receiving yards, 5.7 receiving touchdowns
Yahoo!: 58.4 receptions, 637 receiving yards, 5.1 receiving touchdowns
It’s so tough to project how Bennett will perform this season. I expect him to start, but I’m not sure if he’ll put up over 600 receiving yards. I’d project fewer yards and more touchdowns.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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