How Will Rex Burkhead Fit Into Patriots’ Running Back Committee?

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The New England Patriots conjured up memories of adding Wes Welker, Chris Hogan and Danny Woodhead — oh and Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount and David Patten — when they signed running back Rex Burkhead.

Why? Because Burkhead was an underutilized player on the Cincinnati Bengals who almost certainly will go on to bigger and better things with the Patriots. Burkhead has just 87 career carries for 375 yards in four NFL seasons, and now he’s the highest-paid player at his position on the Patriots.

There are a lot of jokes you can make about Burkhead and the Patriots. We’ve made them and probably will continue to make them about how he’s a gritty, lunchpail player with deceptive speed. It’s a guarantee that during some point of Burkhead’s Patriots career, Bill Belichick will say, “No one works harder than Rex.” I will laugh and then tweet it out, and then you will laugh too. We will all laugh at how predictable this exchange will be.

Signing Burkhead was a very predictable move for the Patriots, but what can he add offensively?

RUNNING BACK REX BURKHEAD
5-foot-10, 210 pounds
26 years old
4.69-second 40-yard dash, 1.63-second 10-yard split, 39-inch vertical leap, 10-feet, 5-inch broad jump, 4.09-second short shuttle, 6.85-second 3-cone drill
2016 stats: 74 carries, 344 yards, two touchdowns, 17 catches, 145 yards, one fumble

Burkhead doesn’t have the size of a typical early-down Patriots running back, but he plays like one. He’s a hard-nosed runner who embraces contact and can plow through the middle of a defense. He’s roughly the same size as Patriots third-down back James White but doesn’t play like it. That’s why Burkhead, White and Dion Lewis can co-exist.

Burkhead likely will handle the majority of early downs, and Lewis will spell him to provide a change of pace. White likely will handle the majority of pass-catching duties and Lewis once again will spell him for a change of pace. It’s possible and even likely the Patriots will draft a running back. That rookie might not see much time on offense this season.

In an ideal world, Burkhead will break out, have a massive season and then sign a big contract with the Patriots or another team after his one-year deal runs out. After watching his film, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Burkhead is really good. And it’s possible we’re only viewing a small sample size based on 74 limited carries, but the fact that Belichick saw the same thing gives me a lot more confidence in my evaluation that Burkhead is indeed good.

It’s weird that the Bengals didn’t give Burkhead more opportunities since we’ve established the fact that he’s good and all, but the Bengals are kind of a strange franchise in general. They have, like, no scouts and seem to draft the best player available on the first online ranking they Google. And they’ve kept Marvin Lewis employed as head coach despite the fact he hasn’t won a playoff game in 14 seasons. That’s a real stat. You can look it up and everything.

So, I guess it’s not that weird that the Bengals might have trouble finding talent on their own roster at times. Burkhead seems talented, and the Patriots agree.

It typically doesn’t end well for teams who allow the Patriots to add their unheralded players. It happened with the Buffalo Bills and Hogan, Miami Dolphins and Welker, New York Jets and Woodhead, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Blount and Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Lewis. Now it’s probably going to happen to the Bengals and Burkhead.

There’s not much Cincinnati can do about it now. This just serves as a heads up.

Thumbnail photo via Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports Images

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