FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots definitely didn’t need to take a running back in the third round. But they did it anyway.
The Patriots selected Alabama running back Damien Harris with the 87th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Harris actually was Alabama’s starting running back over 2019 first-round pick Josh Jacobs last season.
Harris carried the ball 150 times for 876 yards with nine touchdowns in 2018. He also added 22 catches for 204 yards. In his college career, Harris carried the ball 477 times for 3,070 yards with 23 touchdowns. He caught 52 passes for 407 yards with two touchdowns.
Harris ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at 5-foot-10, 216 pounds with a 37-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump.
Harris was called an excellent pass blocker on the NFL Network NFL Draft coverage set. He only graded below average as a pass blocker in 2018 by Pro Football Focus, however.
Harris forced 22 missed tackles in 2018, per PFF. He ranked 49th in PFF’s elusive rating metric and 36th in their breakaway percentage metric.
So, where does Harris fit into the Patriots’ running back stable?
The Patriots now have Harris, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White and Brandon Bolden on their running back depth chart. Harris likely will serve as Michel’s backup on early downs. White will continue to be the Patriots’ third-down back, and Burkhead can play special teams and serve as a reserve in any role. Bolden likely will only play special teams.
Harris does have some pass-catching ability, however. So, it’s possible he could steal an offensive role from Burkhead as the Patriots’ do-everything back. A training camp battle could decide that spot.
The Patriots had issues with injuries at running back last season and needed wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to play the position midway through the season. It seems Bill Belichick and the Patriots are putting an emphasis on running back depth this offseason.
Still, it’s a surprise to see them take a running back before a quarterback, tight end, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, linebacker or safety. Running back was not viewed as a need entering the 2019 NFL Draft.
It’s even more surprising to see the Patriots use a Day 2 pick on a running back just one year after they took Michel in the first round.
The Patriots are the masters of surprising picks, however. It’s smart to expect the unexpected when the Patriots are on the clock.
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