James White Injury Fallout: Five Free Agent Backs Patriots Could Target

Todd Gurley? Frank Gore?


September 27, 2021

Suddenly, the Patriots are in need of a running back.

At least, that’s how things look after James White was carted off the field Sunday with a potentially serious hip injury. New England now must increase the roles of young running backs they clearly don’t have complete trust in.

This was part of the risk in trading away Sony Michel before the season — but we digress.

If White indeed misses extended time, the Patriots likely will look to add a back to either the practice squad or the 53-man roster (they have one open spot). Given White’s age (29), New England probably should proceed with the assumption the Super Bowl hero won’t offer much, if anything, the rest of the season.

So, who’s out there? Would the Patriots target some relative unknown to provide depth, or would they take a swing on an aging veteran with an impressive NFL résumé?

Well, there are some decent options, but remember: There are reasons why these players currently are without jobs. Nevertheless, we came up with five noteworthy free-agent running backs that might or might not be on the Patriots’ radar.

Todd Gurley — 27 years old
— Last played in 2020 for Atlanta Falcons (678 rush yards, 9 TDs, 164 REC yards in 15 games)
That a player of Gurley’s pedigree remains unsigned likely tells you all you need to know. The three-time Pro Bowler, who racked up 17 touchdowns in 2018, might be totally washed up.

Still, he was decent last season, and he knows how to be productive in the passing game. Perhaps New England would take a flier on Gurley, similar to what it did with Steven Jackson in 2015.

Duke Johnson — 28 years old
— Last played in 2020 for Houston Texans (235 rush yards, 1 TD, 249 REC yards, 1 TD in 11 games)
Johnson worked out for the Carolina Panthers after Christian McCaffrey suffered a hamstring injury. So, he at least has received more consideration than Gurley. Johnson also was signed to the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad in early September and released a week later.

His history as a third-down passing game back seemingly would make him a decent choice to replace White. But would he play over J.J. Taylor and Rhamondre Stevenson, or just be a healthy inactive every week?

Dion Lewis — 31 years old
— Last played in 2020 for New York Giants (115 rush yards, 2 TDs, 127 REC yards, 1 TD in 16 games)
Lewis, a former Patriots fan favorite who was great in New England, retired in early August.

It’s hard to imagine him coming out of retirement, considering how bad he looked last season. There probably is no future in the NFL for a small, 31-year-old running back with an injury history. A Patriots reunion is fun to think about, though.

T.J. Yeldon — 27 years old
– Last played in 2020 for Buffalo Bills (70 rush yards, 22 REC yards, 1 TD in three games)
Yeldon’s dual-threat abilities also could make him an interesting add for the Patriots.

However, Yeldon has played just nine combined games since 2018. Again, NFL teams are telling you how good he is. He recently worked out for the San Francisco 49ers.

Adrian Peterson — 36 years old
– Last played in 2020 for Detroit Lions (604 rush yards, 7 TDs, 101 REC yards in 16 games)
This would be fun, but the fit is horrible.

Peterson is a non-factor in the passing game and probably wouldn’t be happy with the number of carries he’d get in New England. The future Hall of Famer currently trails Barry Sanders by 449 yards for fourth on the all-time rushing list.

Honorable mentions: Frank Gore (apparently taking up boxing); Tyler Gaffney (former Patriot); D.J. Foster (former Patriot); Lamar Miller; LeSean McCoy; Ito Smith

Thumbnail photo via Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports Images
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