The Patriots’ backfield has long frustrated fantasy football owners and pundits, but a leader has emerged in New England’s dreaded running back by committee.
Damien Harris has ripped off three 100-yard performances in six games this season. He has 85 carries for 471 yards with one touchdown while averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has two catches for 26 yards in that span.
To this point, however, Harris is a better football player than a fantasy football option. He ranks fifth in rushing yards and sixth in yards after contact per attempt since being activated off of injured reserve in Week 4. He’s third in yards per carry among running backs with at least 50 carries and third in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric among qualified running backs.
Meanwhile, he’s 19th in fantasy points among running backs during that span and 31st in PPR fantasy points. He has three games of double-digit fantasy points. His best fantasy day came in Week 8 against the Buffalo Bills when he carried the ball 16 times for 102 yards with a touchdown.
So far, Harris has been a low-end RB2 in standard scoring and a borderline flex play in PPR. But he does come with some potential simply because of how talented he is. Harris, at this point, seems entrenched as the Patriots’ bell-cow running back. Sony Michel returned to practice two weeks ago, but the Patriots have been in no hurry to activate him.
Michel could effect Harris’ fantasy value when he is eventually activated off of injured reserve, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll then be on the active gameday roster.
That being said, the Patriots are counting on quarterback Cam Newton and running back Rex Burkhead to touch the ball far more inside the red zone.
Newton total touches: 81
Newton touches inside the 20-yard line: 25
Newton touches inside the 10-yard line: 19
Burkhead total touches: 86
Burkhead touches inside the 20-yard line: 14
Burkhead touches inside the 10-yard line: 9
Harris total touches: 87
Harris touches inside the 20-yard line: 6
Harris touches inside the 10-yard line: 4
Michel total touches: 28
Michel touches inside the 20-yard line: 5
Michel touches inside the 10-yard line: 2
James White total touches: 43
James White touches inside the 20-yard line: 4
James White touches inside the 10-yard line: 2
J.J. Taylor total touches: 17
J.J. Taylor touches inside the 20-yard line: 3
J.J. Taylor touches inside the 10-yard line: 1
Jakob Johnson total touches: 7
Newton touches inside the 20-yard line: 2
Newton touches inside the 10-yard line: 1
The lowest percentage of Harris’ touches come within scoring distance out of any Patriots running back or ball-carrier, which is odd.
Harris is a big, physical back at 5-foot-11, 213 pounds. His only touchdown on the season came on a 22-yard scamper when the Patriots were outside of the red zone.
It’s possible that the Patriots will change their red-zone approach at some point this season, but for now they’re leaning heavily on Newton and Burkhead. It’s also possible that the Patriots could try to start passing more in the end zone. The Patriots have just five total passing touchdowns this year, and Newton only threw three of them.
Harris has been consistently good since coming off of injured reserve. He’s a fairly safe fantasy option because of his talent. But his ceiling is limited until he becomes more of a scoring option.