Running Start? Stevenson’s Big Night and its Impact on his role with Patriots

Might the Pats’ rookie running back parlay his performance on Thursday evening into a fast-tracked prominent role in the team’s plans for 2021?
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New England Patriots rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson got his first taste of professional game action on Thursday evening.

To quote Jerry Maguire, he had ”a big night…a very, very BIG night.”

The former Oklahoma Sooner finished the team’s first preseason game of 2021, rushing for 127 yards on 10 carries. Stevenson notched two touchdowns; the most impressive of which came late in the fourth quarter on a 91-yard run to the end zone. The Pats would go on to defeat the Washington Football Team 22-13 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

While it is still far too early to determine whether the 23-year-old has earned his way into the Pats’ running-backs-circle-of-trust, he took a major step toward putting his name on the national map.

Well, 91-yards to be exact.

Stevenson’s prospectus with the Patriots has been the subject of much debate since his arrival in New England via the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. As much of the Patriots’ fan base clamored for a wide receiver, New England decided to use their only fourth round selection on the young running back. As such, the questions began to form, almost immediately.

Would he be yet another ‘red-shirt’ project at the position for head coach Bill Belichick and the Pats offensive coaching staff?

Might he be the heir-apparent to Sony Michel as the team’s secondary option, behind feature back Damien Harris?

Regardless of their future intentions, New England was clearly impressed by what they saw in Stevenson. He arrived in the NFL with a great deal of promise, as well as an impressive collegiate resume. In his first year at Oklahoma in 2019, Stevenson finished the season with 515 yards on 64 carries with six touchdowns, averaging just over eight yards-per-carry. He was suspended prior to the 2019 Peach Bowl, as a result of a failed drug test. Stevenson returned from the suspension six games into the 2020 season. He was named the MVP of the 2020 Cotton Bowl after rushing for 186 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries. This, combined with his ability to receive the ball out of the backfield, made him an intriguing option for the Patriots as they assembled their 2021 draft class.

The 6’0” 230-pound back has the potential to be a dual-threat rusher with the Pats. As he showed on Thursday, Stevenson nicely blends power and athleticism into his running style. He showcased his strength by power-sidestepping his way to his first NFL preseason touchdown. For anyone continuing to question his speed, Stevenson laid those concerns to rest with his blazing, 91-yard run in the game’s closing moments of the game. His impressive run brought the Gillette Stadium crowd to its feet, and earned him the praise and congratulations from his teammates including quarterback Cam Newton and fellow running back James White.

Buoyed by a standout performance in his first preseason action, many have conjectured that Stevenson may be a factor in New England’s offense as early as this season. However, it should be noted that the Patriots usually take a temporant and planned approach to developing young running backs. While he has performed well while running the ball in camp, his backfield-receiving skills have been slow to develop. He also continues to work on improving his athleticism, in hopes of making defenders miss in short yardage situations.

When recently asked about the areas in which the rookie needs to improve, New England’s running backs coach, Ivan Fears replied “Everything.”

On Thursday, Stevenson passed his first test against Washington’s stout run defense. Though he may have been competing mostly with backups, his performance is deserving of the praise which it has received. Still, it remains to be seen as to whether he will see significant snaps this Thursday evening, as the Pats take on the Philadelphia Eagles in preseason game two. If Stevenson logs any playing time against Philly’s top options, it may indicate that New England plans on using him more often. If not, his impressive start might just be the first step towards a slow and steady progression to what he hopes will be a bright future in the NFL. 

One thing we know for sure, in New England, they will take it ‘one game at a time.’