FOXBORO, Mass. — Around this time last year, Ivan Fears was raving about J.J. Taylor, excitedly comparing the undrafted rookie running back to Dion Lewis.
Fears’ review of 2021 fourth-round draft pick Rhamondre Stevenson on Wednesday wasn’t nearly as glowing.
Asked what Stevenson needs to improve as he works his way through his first NFL training camp, the longtime New England Patriots running backs coach shared a blunt assessment.
“Everything,” Fears replied. “Everything. What do I like about him? He’s here. I like that he’s here. Other than that, everything’s got to improve. That’s what we have to get done. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s talented, we’ll see what he can do in the games, but right now, he’s got a lot to learn — a lot to learn.”
Stevenson opened camp on the non-football injury list, making his practice debut on Day 3. Since then, the 227-pound Oklahoma product displayed solid pass-catching chops (outside of one concentration drop at the end of Wednesday’s session) and delivered the loudest hit of the summer to date, truck-sticking diminutive defensive back Myles Bryant on Tuesday as he broke off a long run.
Fears said he “of course” liked seeing Stevenson show off the physical running style that has earned him comparisons to former Patriots bruiser LeGarrette Blount. Stevenson posted the fifth-best broken tackle rate in big-time college football last season.
“But that’s the easy stuff,” Fears quickly added. “Putting the ball in his hands and telling him to go, that’s the easy stuff. But our game is a hell of a lot more complicated than that. There’s a lot out there going on that he’s got to figure out about pro football, and about being a professional, about making plays, all the aspects of the game. Other than that, he’s going to be on the sideline most of the game.
“Hey, he’s got a lot to learn. He’s got a lot of work to do.”
The Patriots typically like to redshirt their rookie running backs. Shane Vereen, James White and Damien Harris all hardly played in their first pro seasons before taking on larger roles in Year 2. Taylor, despite Fears’ obvious affection, was inactive for all but six games in 2020, totaling 23 carries for 110 yards.
Fears’ tepid evaluation suggests Stevenson might be destined for a similar first-year fate.