N’Keal Harry might not be the only offensive impact rookie for the New England Patriots in the upcoming season.
Amid the Patriots’ loaded 2019 draft class, one player that went somewhat under the radar was Damien Harris. It came as a bit of a head-scratcher when New England selected the Alabama running back with the 87th overall pick, as its backfield depth already was more than adequate.
With this in mind, the volume of touches Harris will receive in 2019 is anyone’s guess. But despite the uncertainty of Harris’ role in his rookie season, Nate Burleson couldn’t be higher on the 22-year-old. The former NFL wideout already projected Harris to be the “biggest steal of the draft,” and during Monday’s edition of “Good Morning Football,” he set his high expectations for the soon-to-be rookie.
“Damien Harris, third-round draft pick for the New England Patriots,” Burleson said when asked which rookie RB will have a breakout season, as seen on NFL Network. “You think to yourself, ‘Well, there’s just so many guys. Sony Michel and James White and Rex Burkhead. Well, let’s add this dude to the list. Simple fact is that he was the leading rusher for Alabama the last three seasons, over 1,000 yards in each season — over Josh Jacobs. He averaged 6.4 a pop. You know how much 6.4 — 6.4, that puts you at second and manageable after you get the rock on first down. And you know what I love about him being a third-round pick to the Patriots? You might say, ‘Sure is a crowded running back room. Why would you pick that dude, Nate?’ Because the Patriots, they don’t go out and get a running back for no reason. Of course, he’ll play a little special teams. But I guarantee you this: One game it’s gonna be Sony, one game it’s gonna be James, one game it’s gonna be Burkhead and this dude’s gonna come in — Damien Harris — he might have a 20-yard game and you won’t see him for like five weeks. That’s the way they work their offense. Jenga, different pieces, a Rubix cube of offensive players and the moment you think you got them figured out, the rookie Damien Harris will hit you.”
The importance of depth was put on display last season when injuries hobbled Michel and Burkhead.
With James White as the only available running back, the uber-versatile Cordarrelle Patterson saw time in the backfield as New England bridged the gap. Both Michel and Burkhead have a propensity to suffer injuries, so there’s no guarantee either will play a full 16-game slate in the 2019 season. This could open the door for Harris, who’s a capable pass-catcher in addition to a downfield runner.
The coaches ultimately find ways to put the football in playmakers’ hands. If Harris impresses enough in training camp and the preseason, he probably won’t have to worry about spending the bulk of his time on the sideline.
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