There was a lot of intrigue when the New England Patriots selected Damien Harris in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. New England already had Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White, but decided to keep building at the position.
Harris played his college ball at Alabama and got to play under Nick Saban. Numerous stars have come out of that school. While playing for the Crimson Tide, Harris racked up 3,070 yards and 23 touchdowns in four seasons. Also, Harris averaged over six yards per carry.
With a player of that caliber, it seemed as though Harris would get thrown into the Patriots offense right away. But that wasn't the case. Harris only appeared in two games in 2019. Now things have changed for the running back, as an opportunity for him to earn more playing time looks to be in play this upcoming season.
Last season Michel struggled to get going. He improved his yards and touchdowns totals from his rookie year, but his average yards per carry dropped to 3.7. Last month, Michel had offseason foot surgery that has his status for training camp in question. With changes likely being made to New England's offense due to a new quarterback taking over, Michel could miss some valuable time.
White already has his role as a pass-catching back locked down. He is more of a receiver than a running back at some points. The Patriots offense is likely to be much more balanced now that Tom Brady is gone, however, which means New England will probably be running the ball a lot more going forward.
Without Michel, your early-down running back candidates are Burkhead and Harris. Brandon Bolden is more of a special teams player than a running back you can rely on, so he won't be a big factor on early downs. So could Harris be in line for a larger workload during his sophomore campaign? The coaching staff's thoughts on Harris give an optimistic outlook on how he can help the Patriots moving forward.
“Damien’s done a great job,” running back coach Ivan Fears said to ESPN's Mike Reiss last December. “He really has. Love to see him. I think he’s got a great future. I really do. I think he’s going to be a real good back in this league.
“(Harris) has done everything we’ve asked him to,” Fears added. “He’s working hard. He really is. He’s healthy, and everything’s going well. We just haven’t had the injuries we normally have at this position. We’ve been very healthy, and it’s kind of hard to carry five backs in the game, and we’ve got some guys that do a lot of work on special teams. Until he develops a role there, then he gets a chance to be part of that game-day roster.”
The Patriots coaching staff has done a great job of finding talent. This is the organization that birthed , James White, Malcolm Butler, J.C. Jackson and Julian Edelman, to name a few. Now that Michel's status is in question it opens up an opportunity for Harris to get some more playing time. A battle in training camp between him and Burkhead is likely to take place. Both of these players have something to prove.
So expect to see a lot more of Damien Harris in 2020.