Something will have to change for Damien Harris to see more playing time in 2020.
The Patriots 2019 third-round pick played just 10 total snaps last season — five on offense and five on special teams — as he was buried behind fellow running backs Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, James White and Brandon Bolden on New England’s depth chart. Harris was active for just two games with both appearances coming against the New York Jets. He carried the ball four times for 12 yards.
Michel, Burkhead, White and Bolden all are under contract next season, which is unfortunate for Harris. So, if nothing changes, then Harris will be fighting for snaps for the second straight season.
That means Harris has a lot to prove in the preseason and training camp. He essentially has to show he’s better than Michel or Burkhead to play significant snaps next season, barring injuries. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Michel was unimpressive in his second season, carrying the ball 247 times for 912 yards with seven touchdowns while averaging 3.7 yards per carry. He didn’t progress as expected as a pass-catcher, hauling in 12-of-20 targets for 94 yards.
Burkhead was more efficient but battled through injuries while carrying the ball 65 times for 302 yards with three touchdowns and catching 27-of-38 targets for 279 yards.
White is guaranteed the Patriots’ pass-catching role, while Bolden mostly serves as a special-teamer.
There’s reason to believe Harris will be a good pro. The Patriots obviously like the Alabama product, since they took him 87th overall. He carried the ball 477 times for 3,070 yards with 23 touchdowns in four college seasons while catching 52 passes for 407 yards with two touchdowns. He ran a 4.5-second hand-timed 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 37-inch vertical leap and 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump at 5-foot-10, 216 pounds.
It ultimately would be disappointing for the Patriots if Harris outperforms Michel, a 2018 first-round pick. But based on Michel’s performance in 2019, the Patriots should at least give Harris a chance to earn the top role if it will make New England’s offense more high powered.
Harris did impress in the preseason. He carried the ball 14 times for 80 yards with four catches for 23 yards in their Week 2 exhibition win over the Tennessee Titans. He carried the ball twice for 8 yards in Week 3 of the preseason.
It wasn’t overly surprising when Harris didn’t see playing time in 2019. Shane Vereen essentially was redshirted as a Patriots rookie in 2011, receiving just 15 touches. White saw just 14 touches as a rookie in 2014. Both Vereen and White took on far greater roles in their second seasons. But they weren’t blocked to the same degree as Harris.
Harris should receive more than four touches next season, but he’ll have to beat out tough competition to take on a major role.
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