There’s a good reason why New England Patriots head athletic trainer Jim Whalen won the Fain-Cain Memorial Award for Outstanding NFL Athletic Trainer of the Year at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Patriots stayed remarkably healthy during the 2018 season.

One of their biggest losses, however, came Week 1 when running back Jeremy Hill tore his ACL. Hill likely would have taken on a big role during the season when fellow running backs Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel dealt with minor injuries. Those ailments forced wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to transition to running back for two weeks.

Hill is now an unrestricted free agent.

2018 STATS: four carries, 25 yards, one catch, 6 yards

Hill had an impressive summer, shining in training camp and the preseason as he reported to camp lighter than he previously tipped the scales at LSU and with the Cincinnati Bengals. He carried the ball 26 times for 107 yards with a touchdown in the preseason.

POTENTIAL COMPETITION: Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins

Hill’s former running backs coach with the Bengals, Kyle Caskey, now is with the Lions. Two Patriots offensive assistants followed new head coach Brian Flores to the Dolphins.

PROJECTED DEAL: veteran minimum

Hill signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract last offseason. After a torn ACL, Hill can only expect a one-year deal in the $800,000 range.

PRIORITY TO RE-SIGN: welcome

It’s certainly not necessary to bring back Hill, but he’s a nice low-cost depth option who proved he fit in last summer. The Patriots currently have just three running backs, Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead, on their 90-man roster. Hill spent a lot of time with the Patriots last season while rehabbing his knee injury. He was in the forefront of the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII locker room celebration.

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images