The Patriots running back room is a position of strength.
Since 2014, Bill Belichick has spent a considerable amount of his focus on revamping the running back room.
As a matter of fact, he hit a home run in finding James White in the fourth round in 2014. New England forked over a first-round pick in 2018 on Sony Michel, a third-rounder on Damien Harris in 2019, and this year they selected Rhamondre Stevenson in the fourth round.
After what was basically a redshirt rookie season for Harris, and then missing the first three games of his sophomore season due to a broken finger, Harris is looking to have a breakout season in Year 3.
According to PFF, he will do just that. The Alabama product was named as one of the eight third-year breakout players ahead of the 2021 season.
Belichick Praises Damien Harris
When it comes to addressing the media, Bill Belichick typically does not provide thorough information. Categorically, when Belichick asked about a specific player, he directs his response to multiple players, making his answer more about the team rather than an individual player.
It was a little different Tuesday, June 16.
In a video press conference before the last full team workout during Organized Team Activities (OTAs), Belichick spoke highly of Damien Harris:
"Damien works extremely hard," Belichick said. "Works at all phases, all aspects of his game, certainly his conditioning and training, running game, passing game, protection, route running, catching the ball. He's a hard-working kid that just tries to do whatever he can to help the team and he's got a lot of skill and can contribute in a variety of ways and he's looking to improve and upgrade where he is in every area. So, Ivan (Fears) and Vinnie (Sunseri) have worked hard with Damien. He's responded well and I think he's off to a really good start in preparation for the season."
You can certainly understand why Belichick thinks Harris is off to a really good start. For starters, Harris led the Patriots in rushing yards as a second-year pro. In 10 games, Harris rushed for 691 yards and two touchdowns. He was probably one of the lone bright spots from last season's offense. On top of that, Pro Football Focus ranked Harris as only one of two running backs with a 90.0 overall grade in 2020. The only running back with a higher grade was Derrick Henry, who received a grade of 92.4. That is certainly some elite company.
Health And Playing Time
A key factor as to why Harris undoubtedly will enter training camp next week as the Patriots' No. 1 running back is Sony Michel's health status. Unfortunately for Michel, injuries forced him to have an underwhelming season in 2020. Health and availability again could be an issue for him. He already missed Patriots OTAs due to undergoing knee arthroscopy. Harris should have the upper hand, especially if the Patriots want to manage Michel’s workload early during the regular season.
Harris certainly has the ability to be a 1,000-yard rusher. Factor in the fact the Patriots are bringing back one of the best offensive lines in football, expect big things from the former Alabama standout.