NFL Writer Suggests Why Patriots’ Damien Harris Barely Played As Rookie

Harris is proving to be worth the wait

by

November 19, 2020

Damien Harris has been unleashed this season, and the New England Patriots are reaping the benefits.

Harris, who appeared in only two games with the Patriots as a rookie last season, has shined as New England’s feature back in 2020. The Alabama product has racked up 471 yards and a touchdown over six games after spending the first three weeks of the season on injured reserve.

The 23-year-old’s path in Foxboro isn’t an uncommon one. Shane Vereen and James White also effectively redshirted their rookie campaigns before becoming key cogs of the offense and Super Bowl heroes. But why is it that Bill Belichick and Co. have a tendency to keep running backs on the bench in Year 1?

Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer doesn’t know for sure, but he suggested a possible answer in his latest mailbag.

“…While I can?t tell you exactly why backs might take longer to crack the lineup in New England, I can take an educated guess — the Patriots really prioritize pass-protection based on how they play offense, and that?s usually a hole for rookie running back, and New England would rather not put a back on the field if he isn?t bringing passing-game value, which can take time to develop,” Breer wrote.

Harris hasn’t been exposed as a pass blocker this season, but he’s far from a finished product. The Patriots surely would like to see the 2019 third-rounder, who only has two catches on the campaign, evolve as a pass-catcher. Adding this element to his game could make Harris a top-tier back.

The second-year pro will have a golden opportunity to continue his torrid pace Sunday against the Houston Texans, whose run defense is among the worst in the NFL.

Thumbnail photo via Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports Images
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