Burkhead rushed seven times for 20 yards and hauled in all three of his targets for 50 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's 27-23 preseason loss to the Texans.
Burkhead was limited on the ground but made his presence felt in the passing game, bringing in a 22-yard touchdown to erase a 7-0 second-quarter deficit. The 27-year-old's exact role in the coming season is to be determined, as he logged just 87 carries and 34 receptions in his first three campaigns, which were spent in Cincinnati. A proficient pass catcher, Burkhead is likely to have a sizable role through the air, but will be sharing touches with talented incumbents James White and Dion Lewis in that area. He'll likely see plenty of snaps in next Friday's contest versus the Lions.
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 flyer, 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 game-plan-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.
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.
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.
|P3||8/25/17||@ DET||7:00 pm|
|2||9/17/17||@ NO||1:00 pm|
|5||10/5/17||@ TB||8:25 pm|
|6||10/15/17||@ NYJ||1:00 pm|
|Bye: Week 9|
|10||11/12/17||@ DEN||8:30 pm|
|11||11/19/17||@ OAK||4:25 pm|
|13||12/3/17||@ BUF||1:00 pm|
|14||12/11/17||@ MIA||8:30 pm|
|15||12/17/17||@ PIT||4:25 pm|
|2017||New England Patriots||0||0||0||0||---||0||0||0||0|
|2017||New England Patriots||0||0||0||0||---||0||0||0||0||0|
|2017||New England Patriots||0||0||0||---||0||0||0|
|2017||New England Patriots||0||0||0.0||0||0||0||0||0.0||0||0||0|
|Year||Team||G||Fum||Lost||Fum Forced||Own Rec||Opp Rec||Yds||Tot Rec||TD|
|2017||New England Patriots||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|