The New England Patriots are likely to be a fairly run-heavy offense this season with either Cam Newton or rookie Mac Jones opening the season under center. Newton's not the most accurate guy these days and Jones, well, is a rookie. Since 2013, the Patriots have had a 1,000-yard rusher just once. Will they in 2021? SportsLine offers odds on that possibility.
When New England had Tom Brady, the team didn't really need a dominant running back because it used a short passing game as a pseudo-running game. From Brady's first year as the starter through 2019, the Pats had just five 1,000-yard rushers and not since LeGarrette Blount's 1,161 yards in 2016.
Since then, Sony Michel came close to 1,000 yards on the ground with 931 in just 13 games as a rookie and 912 in a moderately disappointing 2019 season. Michel was limited to nine games and 79 carries last year, but did put up a healthy 5.7 yards per carry for 449 yards.
Alas, the 2018 first-round pick may not even make the 2021 roster that currently has Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White, JJ Taylor, Tyler Gaffney and Brandon Bolden. Michel's rookie fifth-year option to no surprise was declined in May. He has a base salary of around $1.7 million this year and a cap hit of about $3 million.
Harris, a 2019 third-round pick, is the clear-cut featured back entering training camp. He led the team with 691 yards on 137 carries (5.0 ypc) in 10 games along with two touchdowns last season – he started it on injured reserve -- after barely seeing the field as a rookie.
Bill Belichick raved about Harris following June's mandatory minicamp, saying Harris was "off to a really good start in preparation for the season. He's got a lot of skill and he can contribute in a variety of ways, and he's looking to upgrade where he is in every area."
Oddsmakers are giving Harris an Over/Under of 845.5 rushing yards this year – remember it's now a 17-game regular season. Harris had three 100-yards games in 2020 – including his season debut vs. Kansas City -- but got more than 17 carries just once: Week 10 in a 23-17 win over Baltimore in which Harris rushed 22 times for 121 yards. Since 2001, New England is 53-3 in the regular season when a Patriot eclipses 100 yards rushing.
Overall, Harris averaged 13.7 rush attempts playing an average of 40 percent of the snaps. The former Alabama star will be sharing some carries in 2021 with possibly Michel, the rookie fourth-round pick Stevenson (who has been compared to Blount), third-down back White and even Newton, presuming he wins the QB job. Newton tends to vulture those goal-line carries, rushing for 12 scores last year.
In Week 1, the Patriots host the Miami Dolphins and the SportsLine Projection Model forecasts Harris to rush for 69 yards on 11.7 carries. Michel has 37 yards on 7.6 carries and Stevenson 29 yards on 5.9.
Via SportsLine NFL oddsmakers: Will the Patriots have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2021?
- No -200
- Yes +150
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