The Patriots running back situation is a mess. Heading into Thursday’s opener, there’s little to no information regarding who will be receiving the majority of the carries against Kansas City.
That’s exactly the way Bill Belichick likes it.
Belichick loves to shuffle his backs, and he’s starting early this year. After the preseason hype built on free agent signing Mike Gillislee, a hamstring injury moved him to the back of the back. Dion Lewis and James White are familiar faces, and will likely only factor in the passing game.
Then there’s Rex Burkhead.
Burkhead has never seen a full workload in his four NFL seasons, but had success in expanded action in 2016. He became a versatile part of Cincinnati’s offense, and finished the season averaging 4.6 yards per carry on 74 carries.
Burkhead’s largest impact could be in the passing game. As Adam Rank notes, Patriots running backs have caught 14 touchdowns over the last two seasons, more than any other team. In the preseason, Burkhead showed solid hands and was featured in short-yardage situations.
The biggest positive for Burkhead is the injury to Julian Edelman. With over 100 targets now up for grabs, Burkhead will see even more action. Burkhead spent some time in the slot for the Bengals, and he is expected to spend time as a receiver in New England as well.
From a fantasy perspective, Burkhead could be worth a start in PPR leagues. Evan Silva predicted that Burkhead will lead the Patriots in touches on Thursday, which would make sense if he was the preferred every-down back. I’m starting Burkhead as my PPR flex this week, but am looking at better options in standard leagues.
Prediction: 17 carries, 78 yards, 5 catches, 32 yards
Recommendation: PPR Flex