Patriots notebook: Bevy of RB may force Pats to consider investment
INDIANAPOLIS — There’s a prestigious group of running backs up for grabs this offseason.
But for the Patriots to acquire one, they’ll have to divert from their standard plan at the position. Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey could all be first-round draft picks next month, marking the first time since 2012 a trio of backs came off the board in the opening round. And Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles will be free agents by next week.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have Dion Lewis, James White, D.J. Foster and Tyler Gaffney under contract for 2017, and LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden are free agents. The group performed admirably last season, but the Patriots don’t have many holes and are equipped with $67 million in cap space and four of the draft’s top 103 selections. They’ve got the assets to make a significant upgrade to their offensive backfield, but that hasn’t been their style and it’s hard to argue with their philosophy.
It’s at least fun to imagine the possibilities. Considering Peterson and Charles would almost certainly have to pass up millions of dollars to join the Patriots, it’s easier to focus on the draft class.
“There’s a lot of great running backs here,” Fournette said. “It’s not my decision (who gets drafted first), but I know my talent and my hard work is going to show for itself.”
Fournette and Cook might also be pipe dreams, though. Both could conceivably be drafted in the top 10, and it would be a shock if either fell out of the top 20. The Patriots own the 32nd pick, but it’s conceivable they could add an earlier selection if they trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Bill Belichick has drafted just eight running backs in the last 17 years, including one first-rounder (Laurence Maroney, 2006) and one second-rounder (Shane Vereen, 2011), so it’d be a stunner if that changed next month.
Imagine the possibilities, though. Fournette is a power back without a lot of accomplishments in the passing game, so maybe there’s an outside chance that teams pass on him considering the state of the NFL. Conceding that outside chance, would the Pats pounce on the value of the player if he plummeted down the draft board?
They could add a one-man wrecking crew to the backfield, and Fournette is talented enough to trump Blount’s 1,161-yard, 18-touchdown season in 2016.
“It’s a God-(given) ability,” Fournette said of his powerful style. “It’s something I work on in practice. My motto is, ‘Never let one man take you down.’ That’s my whole purpose.”
Cook has breakaway speed and is a three-down back, so the Pats would have to move way up the board to land him. That’s unrealistic.
McCaffrey is another story, though. He is a fringe first-rounder and a three-down player from a pro-style system. He is undersized, so teams might be wary of his ability to hold up with extensive touches. But he sounds like a Patriot in every sense.
“Something I really pride myself on is not just being a running back or not just being a running back that can catch the ball,” McCaffrey said. “But if I move out to the slot, I become a receiver, or if I move out to X or Z, I become a receiver, not just a running back. I really try to pride myself on route running, catching and being able to be a mismatch anywhere on the field.
“Wherever they put me, I’ll do anything a team needs me to do.”
That’s a proclamation Belichick can get behind. The question is whether or not he would pay the price it would take to acquire McCaffrey or any of the big-name running backs on the market this offseason.
Oh, Danny Boy
Former Patriots running back Danny Woodhead has almost fully recovered from the torn ACL that he suffered in September, and he is running, cutting and displaying good burst in his workouts this week.
Woodhead will be a free agent next week after spending four seasons with the Chargers. It seems unlikely he’d return to the Pats, but a source close to the situation didn’t want to completely take it off the table. Woodhead and the Pats have not discussed a reunion because he is under contract with the Chargers until March 9.
Woodhead had 2,181 yards from scrimmage and 14 touchdowns with the Patriots from 2010-12.
Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell interviewed former John Carroll University teammate Josh McDaniels for the team’s head coaching vacancy in January. Of course, McDaniels has remained the Patriots offensive coordinator.
Caldwell was impressed with McDaniels after their first conversation in years.
“As far as the interview goes, he did a great job,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think this was his time, knowing that they were going to go far into the playoffs and Super Bowl. He has a great situation there, and he’ll get an opportunity here sooner than later.”