Mike Gillislee signed with the Patriots this offseason as a restricted free agent for two years at $6.4 million, and he's still considered the frontrunner to replace LeGarrette Blount in New England. That would make Gillislee the starter, but it will be a crowded backfield with the Patriots since they have Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead, and a hamstring injury kept him off the field for much of training camp. That has kept him from running away with the job, at least so far. The good news for Gillislee is, he still has a chance to take Blount's role; he had 299 carries for 1,161 yards and an NFL-best 18 touchdowns last year. We doubt Gillislee gets that much work, especially if Lewis, White and Burkhead are healthy, but Gillislee is coming off a solid campaign of his own in 2016 with the Bills when he was the backup to LeSean McCoy. Gillislee had 101 carries for 577 yards (5.71-yards per carry) and eight touchdowns and nine catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. He actually finished as the No. 26 Fantasy running back in standard leagues, and he had at least nine Fantasy points in seven games, including four with double digits in scoring. He started one game when McCoy was out with a hamstring injury in Week 8 against New England, and had 12 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown and three catches for 9 yards. Given his expected new role, Gillislee is worth drafting as a low-end No. 2 Fantasy running back in Round 5 or 6 in standard leagues and after Round 7 in PPR. He could still be headed for a breakout season in 2017.
Gillislee rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in Sunday's 36-20 win over the Saints. Tom Brady's arm boosted the Patriots to a big lead early and Gillislee helped put the Saints to sleep, including a two-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, his fourth of the season. Few teams are as specialized with their backfield as the Patriots, and though it doesn't seem like Gillislee is going to get the receiving attention that James White or Rex Burkhead will get, the offseason acquisition is in a good spot as the Patriots' power back. It's a role that LeGarrette Blount rode to the tune of 18 touchdowns last season. Gillislee is in position early in the season to shatter that mark.
Gillislee was on the field for 24 out of the Patriots' 81 snaps on offense in Thursday's 42-27 loss to the Chiefs, per ESPN's Mike Reiss. In the process, Gillislee logged a team-high 15 carries for 45 yards and a fantasy-friendly three TDs. Meanwhile, James White recorded 43 snaps and 10 carries for 38 yards; Rex Burkhead was on the field for 10 snaps and three carries, while Dion Lewis drew two carries on six snaps. The report notes that at halftime, Gillislee actually led the team with 17 snaps, but as the Chiefs built momentum in the game, the Patriots turned to the passing attack more, an example of how dependent on game plan and game flow the team's backfield is liable to be in any given week. What can be gleaned from Thursday's opener is that Gillislee is the Patriots' top power back. Given the team's other options at running back, the volume may not always be there for Gillislee, but his TD upside was on display in Week 1, though it's worth noting that there won't be too many game in which QB Tom Brady is held without a touchdown pass, as he was Thursday. The Patriots face the Saints on the road in Week 2, a tilt that has shootout potential.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick suggested Saturday that Gillislee still needs to prove himself to the team, NESN.com's Zack Cox reports. "We were able to get Mike a few carries and a few plays in the game," Belichick said. "I think he still has quite a ways to go. He has missed some practices this (summer) and missed some practices last spring. He's worked hard to stay on top of things and to stay caught up, and we've worked hard to catch up, but we still have some ground to make up." While the injury never seemed serious, Gillislee's hamstring caused him to miss about two weeks of practice as well as the first two exhibition contests. He nonetheless was impressive in his 2017 preseason debut Friday against Detroit, taking eight carries for 38 yards and a touchdown. Gillislee is the favorite to handle goal-line work and the largest portion of the rushing workload, but the threat provided by fellow offseason acquisition Rex Burkhead (undisclosed) shouldn't be overlooked. While Gillislee has a clear advantage when it comes to pure running ability, Burkhead's blocking and receiving skills would make the offense less predictable -- something Belichick said was a major problem last season.
Gillislee carried eight times for 38 yards and a touchdown in Friday's 30-28 exhibition win over the Lions. Gillislee plowed into the end zone from a yard out to cap off his team's third consecutive touchdown drive to start the game. Though Dion Lewis and James White started the game and saw their share of action with the first-team offense, there seems to be a niche for Gillislee as a bigger back after his offseason arrival. His usage could be limited at times this season due to the wealth of options the team can turn to on offense, but he could see plenty of short-yardage work if he plays the role occupied by LeGerrette Blount a season ago. Gillislee is unlikely to see much, if any, action in next week's preseason finale against the Giants.
Gillislee (hamstring) is in uniform for Friday's preseason game against the Lions, Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald reports. Meanwhile, fellow newcomer Rex Burkhead is slated to miss the contest, which affords Gillislee an opportunity to see key backfield reps in the Patriots' preseason dress rehearsal. Assuming he can avoid any injury setbacks, Gillislee will look to solidify his role in the New England offense, which potentially includes him carving out a majority of the team's short-yardage duties, which were handled primarily last year by LeGarrette Blount.
|WK||DATE||OPP||OPP RANK||OPP FPTS|
|5||10/06||@Tampa Bay Buccaneers||1||7.00|
|6||10/15||@New York Jets||31||28.00|
|8||10/29||Los Angeles Chargers||8||12.00|
|17||12/31||New York Jets||31||28.00|
|3 Year Avg||74||422||6||8||40||0||82|