Patriots Roster Battles: James White Has Edge In Running Back Competition


Jun 16, 2016

The New England Patriots’ offseason workout program and the team’s spring roster battles officially conclude this week.

The Patriots will hold their final organized team activity session Thursday, and mandatory minicamp wrapped up last Thursday. Before OTAs started last month, we ran through some of the top roster battles to watch this spring. Here’s an update on how they look with over a month until training camp begins:

Dion Lewis is a lock for the roster, and you can write LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden’s names in pencil with a heavy hand. But the fourth spot on the running back depth chart is up for grabs.

James White looked to have an edge on the job during OTAs and minicamp. Donald Brown’s reps came after White, followed by Tyler Gaffney, Joey Iosefa and finally undrafted rookie D.J. Foster. Lewis fits the profile of a sub back, while Blount is a prototypical big back. Bolden is a sub back in a big back’s body, so the Patriots have the option of carrying either type of player in the final spot.

White, Brown and Foster fit the sub back category, while Gaffney is a big back and Iosefa is a big back/fullback. White has a solid combination of hands and route-running skills but offers little as a ball-carrier. Brown struggled with route running during the spring, and he would have to prove he has more left in the tank than he showed in 2014 and 2015 with the San Diego Chargers. Foster is the most athletically gifted, but he’s an undrafted free agent who would have to move up the depth chart quickly.

Gaffney still has potential as a 2014 sixth-round pick, but he has yet to even take a preseason snap in two years. Iosefa was solid against the Tennessee Titans last year, but he might need another fullback to suffer an injury in order for him to make the roster.

Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Matthew Slater are locks to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster, which leaves Keshawn Martin, Nate Washington, Aaron Dobson, Devin Lucien, DeAndre Carter and Chris Harper competing for one spot.

Of that group, Dobson probably had the strongest spring, but Martin and Carter also stood out at times. Washington, Lucien and Harper kept relatively quiet in OTAs and minicamp.

The job is Martin’s to lose because of the guaranteed money included in last year’s contract extension. He also possesses the necessary versatility for a No. 4 or 5 receiver with the ability to contribute outside, in the slot and on special teams. Washington is solid insurance if there’s an injury to one of the locks because of his past dependability. Dobson showed he still has upside, but at this point, it’s probably not enough to keep him around for a fourth season.

Carter had standout moments over the spring, but the Patriots already are pretty loaded with inside options. Lucien would need to show a lot of improvement over the next five weeks before training camp.

Joe Thuney and Jonathan Cooper spent the majority of the spring at left and right guard, respectively, in the first-team offense, but Josh Kline and Tre’ Jackson missed all OTA/minicamp sessions open to the media, and Shaq Mason only returned Monday.

It will be interesting to see who fills those roles during training camp when everyone is healthy. For now, there’s not a lot to glean at guard, though Thuney and Cooper certainly offer upside.

Bryan Stork and David Andrews split first-team reps at center, where Thuney and Alex Karras also received reps. The Patriots might be more apt to carry Stork because they valued him enough to use a fourth-round pick on him. He also had passed Andrews on the depth chart by the end of the 2015 season. Andrews offers more dependability.

There are two spots up for grabs here: the slot and what’s likely the fifth spot on the depth chart. During the spring, Justin Coleman played outside, filling in for Logan Ryan, who was absent for all open sessions, while Jones manned the slot.

Jones, Ryan and Malcolm Butler are locks, while Coleman, Darryl Roberts, E.J. Biggers, Jonathan Jones, Cre’von LeBlanc and V’Angelo Bentley are competing for two or three spots.

It’s a good sign for Coleman that he filled in for Ryan. Coleman mostly played in the slot last season, so it allowed him to show off some versatility. Both Coleman and Cyrus Jones began the spring above Roberts, a 2015 seventh-round pick, on the depth chart.

Jonathan Jones, an undrafted rookie, had more standout moments than Roberts, Biggers, LeBlanc and Bentley.

Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images

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