The New England Patriots approach the NFL Draft next month with obvious needs for depth on defense at linebacker, the defensive line, defensive end, and safety. On offense, the team needs a future quarterback, a tight end, possibly another impact wide receiver, and interior offensive line help. What gets overlooked in discussions about the upcoming NFL Draft is the running back position.
New England has only three running backs left on the roster after running back LeGarrette Blount signed with Pittsburgh for less than $4 million for two-years. While the loss of Blount may not seem like a big loss, the running back was one of the best role players in the NFL late last season as he put up 193 yards rushing with two touchdowns in week 17 versus Buffalo and then 166 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in the Divisional Playoff game against Indianapolis.
In 2013 the Patriots saw Stevan Ridley rush for 773 yards and seven touchdowns while LeGarrette Blount rushed for 772 yards and seven touchdowns. At the third-down running back position, Shane Vereen had 47 receptions and 208 yards rushing in eight games while back-up Brandon Bolden added another 21 receptions and 271 yards rushing. Free agent acquisition Leon Washington and blocking back James Develin combined for only 11 yards rushing and four receptions.
The Patriots already lost running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis to Cincinnati after the 2011 season without extending themselves to make much of an offer, like with Blount. Last year, they allowed third-down back Danny Woodhead to leave for San Diego without much of an attempt to keep him. While it can be argued that Cincinnati inexplicably overpaid for Green-Ellis at three-years for $9 million, Woodhead hardly broke the bank as the dynamic receiver and first-down machine signed for only two-years for $3.5 million.
In the final year of their rookie deals, running backs Ridley and Vereen only count for $2 million combined against the 2014 salary cap. Back-up Bolden and fullback Develin barely crack $1 million combined against the 2014 salary cap. Last year the salary numbers were not much different and Blount had only a $680,000 cap charge. What was crystal clear in free agency was that the New England Patriots were not going to break the bank at the running back position.