Patriots breakout star: Mike Gillislee has the talent to dominate on the ground
Gillislee is poised to bust loose in 2017 with the New England Patriots
The first-year Patriot is in prime position to see the majority of the team's workload in the backfield filling the role left by Blount, who's now with the Eagles. Gillislee will serve as the Patriots' physical runner, taking goal-line and short yardage situations almost exclusively, while also getting a good chunk of carries on first and second down.
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While consistency may be an issue for Gillislee in terms of his production, that most likely will speak more to how the Patriots operate the backfield rather than how the former Buffalo Bills back is playing. One week it could be a pass-happy affair with James White being highlighted, and another week could call for Rex Burkhead's skillset.
Nevertheless, Gillislee is poised to take his new team by storm.
SportsLine projects Gillislee to lead the backfield in carries while maintaining a high per-carry average, and if he proves that effective early in the season, he could see his workload come in far higher than projected here:
Without even comparing Gillislee to Blount, one could make the argument that the Patriots are more equipped to have a more dynamic running game in 2017 than they did a season ago.
For starters, they have more weapons that defenses need to account for now with the addition of Brandin Cooks and Dwayne Allen to go along with the usual cast of characters of Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and others.
Defenses in 2017 could very easily elect to abandon defending the run and dare New England to have Gillislee beat them instead of Tom Brady and his arsenal of pass-catching weapons.
The offensive line is another area that currently appears more stable than it was a season ago. On the left side of the line, guard Joe Thuney, who had an impressive rookie season, looks to make the leap in Year 2, while left tackle Nate Solder is in a contract year, further incentivizing him to play well this year. At center, David Andrews appears solid as does Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon at the right guard and tackle spots.
Each player is returning from last season and can build off their first year playing with one another as a unit.
Now for some numbers: Gillislee had a league-leading 5.7 yards per carry in 2016, notching 577 yards on 101 carries to go along with his eight touchdowns. According to Pro Football Focus, he also finished third in the league in average yards after contact with 3.34.
With a more prolific offense and stable offensive line in front of him, Gillislee has a chance to be Chris Hogan 2.0 in terms of his impact on the Patriots.
And odds are he'll live up to the hype.
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