The Patriots could have a breakout star at running back in 2020.
It’s certainly not atypical for the New England Patriots to collect running backs every offseason, and if you’re a fantasy football player, you know how tough it is to make any sort of investment into the Patriots’ backfield every year.
The Patriots use every single one of their skill players with Josh McDaniels calling plays and thinking up offensive personnel packages, and that can often lead to no continuity at the running back position.
With that said, every year can be an opportunity for someone to really put their best foot forward at camp regardless of draft status or free agent status and earn their way to more playing time. In 2020, the unanimous opinion and observation coming out of Patriots camp seems to be that running back Damien Harris — a former third-round pick out of Alabama — is literally running away from everybody else for the RB1 role.
The Patriots are obviously not going to be giving up on former first-round pick Sony Michel out of Georgia, who was recently activated off the PUP list. But now, Michel is now going to have to fight significantly for playing time.
In addition to Harris looking good in all facets at camp, the Patriots still have James White and Rex Burkhead who are both capable third-down backs, and they brought in veteran Lamar Miller in free agency.
Harris is a player I was bullish on leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft, an unheralded prospect out of Alabama who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2016 and 2017 before a bit of a ‘down’ year in 2018 with under 900 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Harris has always looked like a natural receiver out of the backfield, a strong one-cut runner with balance, power, and vision, but it was his pass protection skills at Alabama that really elevated his all-around value to me.
Harris’ running skills were never a question, but most rookie running backs coming from the college ranks don’t have great pass protection chops. Harris is a rare exception of a player who is absolutely tremendous in that regard.
In terms of his size, speed, quickness, and explosiveness metrics, Harris compares pretty favorably to Kareem Hunt coming out of Toledo. He has that kind of balance as a runner but time will tell if he can have the kind of impact on the field in the NFL as Hunt had early on in his career with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Even though no one was really worried about the Patriots’ running game being productive in 2020 like it usually has been, the emergence of Damien Harris gives this team yet another tremendous option and a significant edge with Cam Newton as the quarterback.
The Patriots will obviously be a team that heavily relies on the run and the run/pass option plays, and Harris is about to make them all the more dangerous.