Do the Patriots Have the Best Running Back Tandem in the NFL?

When looking across the league, teams establishing a “running back by committee” has become more and more popular in recent years. It’s simply the smarter way to handle your backfield in the modern NFL. Medical staffs have given insight into how a heavy workload can wear on a running back’s body. If you want longevity at that position, a bell-cow back just isn’t the way to go. Having a good tandem can be the key to a dominant rushing attack year in and year out. That’s something the Patriots now possess.

Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson made a strong case for being one of the league’s best two-headed monsters in any backfield. Coming into last season, it might have seemed unlikely that the Patriots’ backs were capable of reaching such a level. Once James White went down, it felt like the Patriots might even struggle to get much production at the position. Hopes were high for Harris after a strong showing when healthy in 2020, posting three 100+ yard outings, but nothing was guaranteed.

Not much was known about what to expect from Stevenson coming in as a rookie fourth-round pick. It wouldn’t have shocked anyone if his role was limited in his first year just as was the case for White and Harris as rookies. Stevenson ended up finishing with the 3rd most rushing yards by a rookie in the Bill Belichick era, behind only Sony Michel and Laurence Maroney. Both Michel and Maroney came in with more reason to play immediately as first-round picks. Stevenson’s playing time was an anomaly in that sense and provides even more reason for optimism.

Together, Stevenson and Harris formed a dynamite young duo. The Patriots finished the season as one of only two teams with a running back who finished in the top 10 in rushing yards and another running back who finished in the top 40. The Cowboys with Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott were the other. While Ezekiel Elliott has a bit more star power than either of the Patriots’ backs, it’s not entirely unfair to look at the Dallas duo as a goal for New England to strive to emulate. The Cowboys have perennially been one of the best rushing teams in the NFL over the last decade, including finishing in the top 10 in rushing yards in all but one season since drafting Pollard in 2019. The duo has been able to grow together as a youthful tandem in that time, with Pollard allowing Dallas to spell Elliott when needed.

It’s not hard to imagine Harris and Stevenson dominating together in New England for years to come. Both are young, both haven’t had to carry a heavy workload in the NFL just yet, and the Patriots don’t have to change their offense based on who’s in the game. Stevenson and Harris play a similar style as bruising backs that soften up defenses which can open up the passing game for Mac Jones. ESPN’s Mike Reiss has appropriately dubbed them, “Thunder and Thunder”, a nickname that suits them quite well. They’ve also shown more in the passing game than more physical backs like LeGarrette Blount have in years past. New England’s backfield is perhaps the most underrated element of the team’s offense heading into 2022.

Photo: (AP Photo)

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