With James White, Rex Burkhead, and Sony Michel all returning to the Patriots in 2019, running back was not a need heading into the NFL draft. So it was surprising when the team took Alabama running back Damien Harris in the third round with the 87th overall pick.
On Saturday night, Harris showed us exactly why he was worth that selection.
He had a standout performance against the Titans, finishing with 14 carries for 80 yards and four catches for 23 yards. His longest run went for 20 yards. Harris looked impressive, running with patience and determination. He also looked solid as a pass-catcher, highlighting his versatility and ability to play all three downs.
“I just looked at it as my first opportunity to play with this team, so that was what I was excited about,” Harris said after the game. “Like I said, just being able to go out there this week and play with these guys. It was really exciting.”
His performance becomes even more impressive when you consider who he was running behind. The Patriots starting offensive line against Tennessee had only one player who is actually competing for a starting job (Isaiah Wynn). Each of the other offensive linemen are all fighting for a roster spot. During the regular season, Harris will have the opportunity to run behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, which could make him even more dynamic.
Harris’ performance could make the roster cutdowns much more interesting. The Patriots have an extremely deep running back room with him, White, Michel, Burkhead, and Brandon Bolden. With a deep roster in other areas, the Patriots may feel like they do not need to keep all five running backs. With Michel and White as locks, Bolden and Burkhead could quickly find themselves fighting for spots.
Bolden has security as a special teams leader. Burkhead is with the Patriots through the 2020 season on a relatively cheap deal. He is making $7 million between this year and next year, with $2 million of dead cap in 2019 and $1 million in 2020. New England may be able to find a trade partner for Burkhead at the end of camp based on injuries and other factors. However, if they cannot and Harris continues to shine, the team may consider releasing Burkhead to save more cap room.
Either way, Harris’ success highlights just how deep and talented the Patriots running backs corps truly is.