Regardless of New England’s genuine intention behind bringing in free agent Adrian Peterson for a visit, the Patriots could use another running back to add to their backfield stable before training camp.
Peterson came and went without a contract on his visit, and it seems unlikely, though possible, the Patriots will circle back and sign the 10-year veteran.
The Patriots currently have running backs Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis and D.J. Foster on their roster. They could use one or two more big backs to round out the group before they compete over the summer.
So, other than Peterson, who’s still out there?
In free agency, there’s Jamaal Charles, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden and Rashad Jennings, among others.
Blount is the best fit and most likely option among that group. The biggest stumbling block might be getting Blount, who carried the ball 299 times for 1,161 yards with 18 touchdowns last season, to agree to a contract worth a fraction as much as Rex Burkhead’s. Burkhead is being paid $3.15 million in 2016 and has 87 career carries.
Charles provides the most upside and risk in that group. He’s one of the most productive running backs in NFL history, but he carried the ball just 12 times for 40 yards in three games last season. He’s one year removed from a season in which he played just five games before tearing his ACL. His last productive season came in 2014, and he’s 30 years old.
Bolden could continue to be a do-everything back for the Patriots, while Jennings could serve as competition in training camp.
The Patriots’ other avenue through which to acquire a running back is in the draft. The best fits are Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols (fourth round), Wisconsin’s Corey Clement (fourth-fifth round), Wyoming’s Brian Hill (fourth-fifth round), Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Wisconsin’s Dare Ogunbowale (seventh round).
A Patriots running back must have a combination of ball security, agility, pass-protection and size. Ogunbowale and Hill fumbled the least. Clement and McNichols had the best 3-cone drill times, and McNichols and Hill were the best and most experienced pass blockers. Clement and Conner have the best size. We’re still awaiting 3-cone times for Conner, Texas’ D’Onta Foreman (fourth) and LSU’s Leonard Fournette (first).
If the Patriots draft a running back, he’ll likely sit for at least a season behind Burkhead, Lewis and White.
The Patriots would have to cross their fingers for health, but they also could get by with their current top backs in 2017. They must select a running back to man the backfield for the future at some point, though. It’s not ideal, but they could still sign a player like Blount or Charles to compete with Burkhead for one year and start this process over again next offseason.
Peterson is the biggest name left on the open market, but he isn’t necessarily the best fit. The Patriots will find another running back or two. The biggest question is how.
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