But that’s a different conversation from the one we’re about to have. Plus, Michel is gone and isn’t coming back.
White left in the first quarter of New England’s eventual loss to the New Orleans Saints after suffering a hip injury. The veteran back was carted off and immediately ruled out for the rest of the game. It doesn’t look good.
In addition to potentially losing a locker room leader and proven playoff performer, the Patriots also would be without a key member of their offense. In Weeks 1 and 2, White looked like he’d recaptured his vintage form and once again was a force on third downs.
So, what now for an offense that’s led by a rookie quarterback and still is getting its new pieces up to speed?
Let’s start with the players currently on the roster.
Damien Harris, an emerging star and the bell-cow in New England’s backfield, needs to prepare for an increased workload. Unless you count Brandon Bolden — who also should expect an uptick in usage — Harris is the most proven player on the depth chart. This should concern you if you’re a Patriots fan, given Harris’ injury history and the issues with New England’s offensive line. Hopefully he can hold up.
J.J. Taylor, a training camp star and undeniably promising player, likely will replace White as the primary third-down back. Some have viewed the second-year back as New England’s “next James White,” but his ascension into that role likely now will be accelerated. Taylor thus far hasn’t looked good in picking up blitzes, something White normally is tremendous at. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2020, Taylor was a healthy inactive in Week 1 but suited up in Weeks 2 and 3.
And then there’s Rhamondre Stevenson. The talented rookie fell on his face in the season opener and subsequently was benched the next two weeks. Unless the Patriots truly aren’t ready to give him another opportunity, Stevenson likely will be active next weekend against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Whether he actually will see the field is a different story, but Stevenson nevertheless has the potential to be strong backup for Harris.
Lastly, a note about free agents.
New England has an open spot on its 53-man roster and seemingly could bring in a running back if White is expected to miss significant time. Would that player be a practice squad jag, big-name free agent or something in between? Good luck predicting what the Patriots will do with their roster construction.
For what it’s worth, here are some of the running backs currently on the open market: Todd Gurley, Dion Lewis, Duke Johnson, Spencer Ware, T.J. Yeldon, Frank Gore. Former Patriots D.J. Foster and Tyler Gaffney also are out there.
Besides White, the player most impacted by the veteran’s injury probably is Mac Jones. Like Tom Brady before him, the rookie signal-caller relied on White as a play-making security blanket.
Perhaps White returns in a relatively short amount of time and picks up where he left off. If not, the Patriots will struggle to replace everything he brings to the table.