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Patriots running backs

Backfield should have two viable performers

The Patriots backfield is one of the key questions of the preseason, with some putting their chips in on Damien Harris and others believing Rhamondre Stevenson will emerge. A related question to who will be the main runner is who will be the third-down back.

The Patriots seldom use their main runner in passing situations, which lets out Harris (the favorite to start, though there's a certain segment of the fantasy world that believes it will be Stevenson). Stevenson has been getting some work in passing situations in camp, but he's a bigger back and doesn't fit the profile of what New England has generally used in that role. He also wasn't ready for his chance in that situation against Carolina on Friday (in that game, New England left its main running backs in for passing situations -- Harris the first series, Stevenson the second, and Ty Montgomery the third).

Montgomery is just a well-traveled veteran at this point, but he's also the best pass catcher of the three, having spent a lot of his career as a wide receiver. He's listed as such on the team depth chart, but he was used at running back against the Panthers, and that's more likely where he'll end up on this roster. It's a potentially valuable role.

Over the past 20 years, New England has had 19 different running backs catch at least 30 passes in their offense, and only one of those guys -- Dion Lewis in 2017 -- was also their main runner. More often than not, that passing downs back didn't do much as a runner, but that receiving production enabled them to finish as a solid (and sometimes better than that) starter in PPR leagues.

Table shows the 19 Patriots running backs to catch at least 30 passes since 2002. Eight times those players finished as top-30 fantasy backs, including three recent top-20 players -- Lewis, and James White twice. Those players are in bold.

2021Brandon Bolden4422649414053124.141
2020James White3512162493753116.642
2019James White6726395726456202.618
2018James White944251238775112276.67
2017James White4317172564293134.038
2017Dion Lewis180896353221410203.013
2017Rex Burkhead6426436302548129.839
2016James White3916686605515161.726
2015James White225654404106122.639
2015Dion Lewis4923450363884122.243
2014Shane Vereen9639177524475165.820
2013Shane Vereen4420869474274134.536
2012Danny Woodhead7630155404467156.724
2009Kevin Faulk6233553373013118.642
2008Kevin Faulk8350774584866193.221
2007Kevin Faulk6226561473831117.844
2006Kevin Faulk2512356433563108.945
2003Kevin Faulk17863867484400155.829
2002Kevin Faulk5227153373797144.035

Guessing what the Patriots will do is annually frustrating, but I think Montgomery merits a late-round selection in PPR leagues. He won't be the main runner, but if he's the main third-down back, and he might be, he'll have some value.

--Andy Richardson

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