LeGarrette Blount to the Eagles
I think we can confidently say last season will go down as a career year for Blount, who finished with career-highs in rushing attempts (299), rushing yards (1,161), and touchdowns (18). Of those 18 scores, 15 came from inside the 10-yard line. Those numbers were good enough for him to finish as RB7 in standard formats and RB9 in PPR. Blount’s value was based on volume, as his 299 carries were second in the NFL behind only the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott. As his 3.9 yards per carry indicates, he was not an efficient runner.
How does his value change on the Eagles? Well, natural regression is in order. The Patriots had the third-most rushing attempts in the league last season whereas the Eagles ranked 10th in that category. With the Patriots leading in so many games, it made sense that they just ran the ball in the latter stages of those contests, which led to carries for Blount, so we can confidently say the Eagles won’t be leading in as many games as the Patriots. The other obvious regression will come with touchdowns, as Eagles running backs managed 14 rushing touchdowns in 2016. However, of the team’s 14 touchdowns, 13 of them came from inside the 10.
Another thorn in the side of Blount’s Fantasy value is that Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson already announced he would run his offense in the same form he did last season where he used a committee approach at running back that saw three backs have more than 77 carries for the Eagles in 2016. Blount is in line to take on the role Ryan Mathews had last season where he led the team in attempts and was the go-to man in short-yardage/goal line situations.
Overall, Blount is a low-end RB2 or flex in standard formats. In PPR he gets bumped down a few spots because he’s never had more than 15 receptions in a season. An Eagles beat writer set the over/under for Blount’s rushing attempts at 170 this season, so let’s be generous and give him 175 while running at 4.1 yards per carry. That projects to 718 rushing yards and between 8-10 touchdowns. Mathews managed eight touchdowns in similar circumstances last season, so that seems like a safe floor for Blount. That would have put him right around RB25 in standard last season. He’s being drafted as RB34 in MFL ADP right now, which is a slight bargain.
Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead to the Patriots
Did you think I was going to discuss Blount leaving New England but not his replacements? Guess again.
Let’s start with Gillislee, currently the presumed starter. Last season, Gillislee managed to finish as RB27 in standard and RB40 in PPR despite being mainly a backup to LeSean McCoy with the Bills. He finished the season with only 101 carries but ran for 576 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. His 5.7 yards per carry ranked first among all running backs with at least 100 carries.
That’s because the Bills had a great O-line right? Not necessarily. According to Football Outsiders, the Bills’ offensive line ranked 16th in run blocking, which makes them average. How did he manage those yards per carry then? Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating ranked Gillislee eighth best in 2016. On top of that, his 3.34 yards after contact per attempt was third best in the NFL. In short he was pretty damn good.
Gillislee is entering his fourth season but doesn’t have much tread on the tires. He has just 154 career carries, having started just two games. He didn’t take a beating in much of his time in college at Florida, as he didn’t handle a full workload until his senior year when he rushed 244 times for 1,152 yards (4.7 ypc) with 10 touchdowns. At 26 years old, his legs are pretty fresh.
Fitting in with the Patriots is the tough part. It’s a crowded backfield with Gillislee joined by Burkhead, Dion Lewis, and James White. It’s early but as of now all signs point to Gillislee filling the Blount role with the others sprinkled in. Burkhead should see a few touches per game with White as the receiving back. Lewis strikes me as depth at this point. Just because I say “Blount’s role” doesn’t mean Gillislee will see 299 carries either. With that being said, I think Bill Belichick wants a running back he can trust.
Since 2010, Belichick’s lead back has had 165 carries in all but one season. On three different occasions during that span, Belichick had a lead back with at least 229 carries. He’s also produced a running back with double-digit touchdowns in four of the last seven seasons. I think Gillislee will get the first crack at the starting job and if he does well on early downs and on the goal line, the job will be his to lose.
Like Blount, Gillislee was very effective inside the 10-yard line. Of his eight touchdowns, seven came from within that range. Everything points to Gillislee being a more efficient version of Blount. The difference, however, will be the volume. Gillislee is being drafted as RB28 at pick 78.25 right now. This ADP is fine because his range of possible production is wide. He could win over Belichick and be the workhorse back in a Tom Brady-driven offense or he could fumble frequently and lose his job three weeks into the season. I seem to trust the talent and think he could be a steal in standard formats.
The Patriots signed Burkhead in mid-March. Originally, I think they wanted him to be their guy. However, the market didn’t really develop for Gillislee and the Patriots pounced on the opportunity to sign both. Burkhead is no slouch, though, and he proved that when he had an extended role in Cincinnati late last season. Burkhead ran the ball 68 times for 305 yards (4.5 ypc) and two touchdowns over his final six games with the Bengals and added 15 receptions for 121 yards during that span.
Burkhead is a versatile player who fits into what the Patriots do. They keep teams off balance using a bevy of weapons and Burkhead’s skillset will only add to that. Unfortunately for his Fantasy value, Burkhead will be limited as long as Gillislee works on early downs and on the goal line. In leagues with deeper benches, he should be drafted regardless because he is a Patriots running back. Like I mentioned, he’s a few Gillislee fumbles away from taking that job. Plus, if White were to suffer an injury, Burkhead has proved he is a capable receiver as well.
Overall, he’s just another toy at Belichick’s disposal. According to MFL ADP Burkhead is being drafted as RB61 behind White and Lewis, which is a mistake. He will have more of a role than Lewis this season.