Showing off surprising versatility and power in a Week 17 audition last season, Rex Burkhead turned a 27-carry, 119-yard, two-score performance with Cincinnati into a nice one-year contract with New England. It's there he will compete with the likes of Mike Gillislee, Dion Lewis and James White for playing time in the Patriots' backfield this fall. Burkhead has the physicality to work as a between-the-tackles type of runner and has the hands to work in passing situations. It's simply a matter of proving to Bill Belichick that he can reliably do it week in and week out. Fantasy owners are more apt to buy into Gillislee as the best Patriots running back, but Burkhead deserves attention as a late-round flier. He's good roster depth, and he could eventually get a bigger role, especially if Gillislee has trouble staying healthy.
With Mike Gillislee (hamstring) still sidelined, Burkhead logged the majority of rushing reps on handoffs with the Patriots' first-team offense Monday, the Boston Herald reports. Once Gillislee returns to the field, he'll look to secure a role as the team's early-down/short-yardage back, but Burkhead's versatility looks like a good fit for a rushing attack that has been crafted to be less predictable than it was last season, when top "big back" LeGarrette Blount seldom contributed in the passing game. Though we like Burkhead as late-round flier, the likelihood that Gillislee earns the bulk of the team's short-yardage work out of the gate, coupled with the presence of pass-catching stalwarts James White and Dion Lewis, clouds Burkhead's initial path to consistent touches. Given the Patriots' tendency to divide weekly carries in a gameplan-specific manner, it wouldn't surprise us to see Burkhead engineer some fantasy-worthy production in 2017, but as long as the team's key backfield cogs are all healthy, such production figures to be a hit-or-miss.
Burkhead could benefit from the Patriots' desire to be more unpredictable on offense this season, Mike Giardi of CSN New England reports. As good as the New England offense was last season, coach Bill Belichick noted that the team's backfield was a bit too predictable, with LeGarrette Blount a non-contributor in the passing game and James White logging more than twice as many targets (86) as carries (39). Burkhead seemingly offers the best mix of running, blocking and receiving skills among the team's current backs, in addition to boasting a long-standing reputation as a standout on special teams. Mike Gillislee is still the favorite to replace Blount in the power role, but the former Bill could lose work to Burkhead if Belichick follows through on his stated desire to emphasize backfield versatility. Gillislee has averaged 5.6 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 154 career carries, but he only has 15 receptions in 23 NFL games, leaving doubt as to whether he'll be a serious upgrade from Blount in that department. Burkhead also has the skill set to push White and Dion Lewis for snaps in passing situations.
Burkhead is less likely than fellow free-agent acquisition Mike Gillislee to help fill the void created by LeGarrette Blount's departure, ESPN.com's Mike Reiss reports. It seemed Burkhead might be headed for big things when the Patriots signed him to a one-year, $3.15 million contract in March, but the team then added Gillislee on a two-year, $6.4 million contract a month later, further bolstering a backfield that already had James White and Dion Lewis (hamstring). While Burkhead did average 4.6 yards on his 74 carries last season, he mostly made his mark as a special teams player and pass blocker during his four seasons in Cincinnati. Given that Gillislee averaged 5.7 yards and scored eight touchdowns on 101 carries with the Bills last season, the former Bengal may find himself with a role not all that different from the one he had with his old team. The size of the contract does suggest that the Patriots at least have plans to occasionally involve Burkhead in the offense.
The Patriots seemingly view Burkhead as a significant part of their 2017 plans, ESPN's Mike Reiss reports. Burkhead signed a one-year, $3.15 million contract that includes a $1.1 million signing bonus. In addition to assuring him of a roster spot, the contract suggests the Patriots expect him to contribute on offense. Burkhead was always a strong special teams contributor in Cincinnati, and last season he also demonstrated proficiency as a pass catcher, pass blocker and even as a runner. The Patriots do already have a pair of talented pass-catching backs in the form of Dion Lewis (hamstring) and James White, but they may still find a way to get Burkhead some touches.
The Patriots have signed Burkhead, ESPN's Mike Reiss reports. The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder carried 74 times for 344 yards and two TDs, while adding 17 catches for 145 yards in a part-time role with the Bengals last season. Given his ability to contribute on special teams, the addition of Burkhead could signal that the Patriots could move on from free-agent reserve Brandon Bolden. Burkhead joins a backfield that also consists of James White, Dion Lewis, D.J. Foster and Tyler Gaffney. Meanwhile, the team's leading rusher in 2016, LeGarrette Blount, remains a free agent, though it's still possible that he could be re-signed. Alternatively, the Patriots could look to add another "big back" to replace Blount via free agency or the draft.
|* indicates player did not play that week|
|WK||DATE||OPP||OPP RANK||OPP FPTS|
|1||09/08||Kansas City Chiefs||17||17.59|
|2||09/17||@New Orleans Saints||31||21.63|
|5||10/06||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||22||18.75|
|6||10/15||@New York Jets||15||17.00|
|8||10/29||Los Angeles Chargers||27||19.88|
|17||12/31||New York Jets||15||17.00|
|3 Year Avg||29||125||1||11||96||0||27|