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Patriots Keeping Their Options Open at Running Back, Host Four on Free Agent Workouts

Each of the four visiting running backs have the versatility to contribute for the Patriots in both the passing game and the running game.

As they attempt to fill the void assumedly left behind by the injury to James White, the New England Patriots hosted seven free agents for workouts on Tuesday. Four of the seven players were running backs.

Ryquell Armstead, Dontrell Hilliard, Ito Smith and Artavis Pierce all visited Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, according to the league’s personnel wire.

Smith was the fourth-round selection of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2018 NFL draft. During his time at Southern Miss, he was awarded a first-team All-Conference USA selection. He played in 35 games for the Falcons, compiling 1003 total yards (689 rushing yards, 314 receiving yards) and six touchdowns.. While the 26-year-old was waived by Atlanta in April. Smith made stops in training camp with the Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings.

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Armstead joined the NFL as a fifth-round draft selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2019 NFL Draft. The 24-year-old product of Temple University appeared in 16 games as a rookie, rushing for 108 yards on 35 attempts. He has also compiled 14 receptions for 144 yards with two touchdowns. He missed last season due to respiratory complications resulting from COVID-19. After being waived by the Jaguars in May, Armstead briefly spent time with the New York Giants.

Hilliard entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2018, by way of Tulane University. The 26-year-old has spent time with the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans. In 32 career games, Hilliard has run for 97 yards, as well as tallying 22 catches for 199 yards with two touchdowns. Hilliard has also been a factor on special teams, averaging 7.1 yards per punt return and 23.1 yards per kickoff return.

Pierce signed with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2020. The 25-year-old from Oregon State played in five games during his rookie season, recording six carries for 34 yards with one touchdown. Pierce began September on Chicago’s practice squad.

In addition to the running backs, New England also worked out wide receiver Anthony Johnson along with defensive backs D.J. Daniel and Stephen Denmark.

Maven Analysis

As the Patriots lack the presence of a running back on their practice squad, it should come as no surprise that they hosted a handful of running backs for evaluation on Tuesday. Each of the four visiting running backs have the versatility to contribute in both the passing game and the running game. While Smith is arguably the highest-profile of the free agents, Hilliard might actually be the best fit. In addition to being a dual-threat back, the three-year veteran has the ability to add depth to the Patriots special teams, with both kick and punt return capabilities. Armstead is the most physical of the aforementioned runners. However, if the team is looking to alleviate the loss of James White, Hilliard would be the closest suitor, with Smith being an intriguing option, as well.