FOXBORO, Mass. — Statistically speaking, Mike Gillislee has been the New England Patriots’ best rusher this season.
Signed away from the Buffalo Bills as a restricted free agent, Gillislee has carried the ball a team-high 69 times for a team-high 246 yards and a team-high four rushing touchdowns through his first five games in a Patriots uniform.
Overall, though, he’s averaging just 3.6 yards per carry thus far — a far cry from the NFL-best 5.7 yards he averaged in his final season with the Bills. And three of his four scores came in Week 1.
What we have yet to see from Gillislee is one of the 20-plus yard runs that LeGarrette Blount used to rip off with regularity last season. That’s contributed to his unimpressive yards-per-carry average and prevented New England’s running game from reaching its full potential.
In fact, just three of Gillislee’s 69 rushes gained more than 10 yards. He picked up 16 yards one handoff during the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs and had 13-yard carries in Weeks 2 and 4.
A breakout feels imminent, though. Gillilsee averaged a season-high 4.3 yards on 12 carries last Thursday in a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he’s frequently been one missed tackle away from gashing a defense for big yardage.
“In the opportunities that he?s had to carry the ball, he has been very productive with it,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday. “… I like having Mike. There are a lot of things that he does well for us.”
Belichick added: “Mike has certainly given us a lot of tough yards. He?s an explosive player. He hasn?t really hit them yet, but I don?t think there?s any doubt that those are going to happen. He?s been close a few times, so hopefully he’ll start this week.”
Gillislee headlines a four-headed rushing attack that has been shorthanded for much of this season. Running back Rex Burkhead has missed three games since injuring his ribs early in Week 2, leaving Gillislee, Dion Lewis and James White to split reps in a still-crowded backfield.
White, the top receiving threat in that group, leads all Patriots backs with 182 snaps through five games, followed by Gillislee with 117, Lewis with 64 and Burkhead with 18.
Burkhead, who has been a limited participant in practice the last two weeks, could return to action Sunday against the New York Jets. How significant a role he’ll play going forward remains to be seen.
Thumbnail photo via Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports Images