Rex Burkhead has spent the majority of his NFL career as a role player, chipping in as a backup running back and special teamer in four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Two of his former coaches believe he can be much more than that for the New England Patriots.
Speaking earlier this week at the NFL Annual Meeting, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and former Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson both heaped praise on Burkhead, who signed a one-year, $3.15 million contract with the Patriots earlier this month.
While $3.15 million might not sound like a massive salary, it is for a Patriots running back. New England hasn’t paid a back more than $2 million since 2010, and Burkhead will make more than teammates Dion Lewis and James White combined in 2017.
Jackson and Lewis both believe he’s worth the investment.
“He’s very talented,” Jackson told reporters, via CSNNE.com. “He’s a guy that was playing behind some very talented players (with the Bengals), and so he’s going to get his opportunity now, and he’s going to flourish. He’s a really good player. A really good player.
“He’s very versatile because he’s a good runner, a good pass-catcher. He’s a good blocker. He’s very bright. He’s been a sensational special teams player there, so he brings a lot of different elements to that football team.”
That’s not a newly developed opinion, either. As NFL Media’s Chris Wesseling pointed out, Jackson, who now coaches the Cleveland Browns, used almost the exact same words to describe Burkhead way back in 2015, calling him “one of the better players on our team.”
Lewis, the only head coach Burkhead has known in the NFL, said injuries prevented the 26-year-old from reaching his full offensive potential in Cincinnati.
“A lot of times when Rex got opportunities to play, he wasn’t quite 100 percent, and so that kind of limited him some,” Lewis told reporters, via CSNNE.com. “Even in preseason opportunities and so forth like that where you’d go into the game, and it’d be Rex’s — in my mind, Rex’s ballgame — to carry the ball in the first or second quarter, and he wasn’t able to suit up that day.
“That’s one of the things he’s battled over his career is just being 100 percent completely healthy. (But) he’s just a hard-working guy who always wants to be out there.”
Burkhead’s most recent game was the best of his pro career. With Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard both injured, Burkhead rushed 27 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 17 win over the Baltimore Ravens that closed out his Bengals tenure.
Thumbnail photo via Troy Taormina/USA TODAY Sports Images