Full disclosure: The original intention behind this post was to list all of the New England Patriots’ potential offensive personnel groupings. But there are SO many.
There are so many that it would actually overwhelm readers and muddy the intention behind the post. And, if anything, not listing them actually strengthens the point that there are SO many that it will make the 2017 Patriots even more difficult to defend than previously complex Patriots offenses.
Most defenses have some idea of what to prepare for when they see a particular offensive personnel grouping on the field. But the sheer number of possibilities the Patriots have, and the small sample size of plays run in each grouping will put opposing defensive coordinators into a tizzy.
The Patriots have at least one more running back to add before the season starts, and they already have 11 skill-position players who deserve regular snaps: running backs Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis and James White, fullback James Develin, wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen.
The Patriots are most loaded at wide receiver, so they’ll likely spend the majority of time in 11 (one running back, one tight end) personnel. The Patriots’ top receivers likely will be Cooks, Edelman and Hogan, though Mitchell and Amendola (if he returns on a reduced salary) also will fight for time. So, the Patriots could find themselves in 10 (one running back, no tight ends) and 01 personnel (no running backs, one tight end), as well, with four receivers on the field.
Running backs will be fighting for snaps, too. White showed off his value in Super Bowl LI with 20 total touches for 139 yards with three touchdowns. He’ll be the Patriots’ primary third-down back.
Lewis deserves reps, too, and his versatility lets him play on early downs and passing downs. Burkhead also has versatility, and at this point, without a traditional big back on the roster, projects as the Patriots’ top early-down back. Develin will be the Patriots’ lead back and could see his snaps reduced. The Patriots also will show looks in 20, 21 and 22 personnel with two running backs on the field at the same time. Develin will be one of those backs most of the time, though White, Lewis and Burkhead also could see time in the Patriots’ offense together because they all can line up at receiver and in the backfield.
Gronkowski obviously deserves a full-time role, but the Patriots could elect to reduce his snaps to keep him fresh and healthy and to give Allen time in the offense. It’s important to make sure Gronkowski is still on the active roster for the playoffs, so it makes sense to give Allen significant reps during the regular season. Because Gronkowski and Allen both are starting-caliber tight ends, the Patriots also could align in 02 and 12 personnel groupings.
This is the best group of offensive weapons the Patriots have fielded in Tom Brady’s career partially because it’s the deepest. And because it’s so deep, the Patriots will be able to keep their skill-position players fresh and defenses on their toes.
Good luck to the Patriots’ opponents in 2017. You’ll need it.
Thumbnail photo via Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports Images