File this under a good problem to have, but the Patriots are going to be in an interesting spot when it comes to the running back position.
Second-year player and training camp star Damien Harris is eligible to come off injured reserve this week and that would give the team five players at the running back position — Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, J.J. Taylor and Harris.
It seems unlikely the team would make five backs active for a given game, so some decisions would need to be made, likely having to decide who to make inactive on a given week.
“You just never know how that’s going to work out,” Bill Belichick said Monday. “A couple years ago, we had good depth at running back and then we ended up playing a receiver, running back and everything else, and so it just all diminished in a hurry. That might not be the case here going forward, we might have good depth there, and we’ll just try to do the best that we can in terms of game planning and creating opportunities and personnel groups and plays or whatever it is to try to attack our opponents.
“But, I think you’ve got to be careful about changing your whole offense just to work a couple guys into the lineup if that’s going to detract from something else. So, there’s a balance there, but it’s good to have depth.”
Michel was trending the wrong direction until Sunday against the Raiders when he ran for 117 yards on nine carries, including runs of 38 and 48 yards — the longest two of his career. Then, Burkhead had arguably the best game of his career, totaling three touchdowns — two on the ground and one through the air — and he made some moves and cuts that not many other backs in the league can make. And not to mention Taylor, an undrafted rookie, who added 43 yards on 11 carries.
All three contributed to the win with White missing his second game due to the tragic death of his father and Harris being on injured reserve.
So, what does the team do moving forward when White and Harris come back, which could potentially come as early as this week against the Chiefs?
A likely scenario, assuming White comes back, is slow-playing Harris’ return. Even if he’s ready to go, it may make some sense in keeping him out an extra week to allow another game for things to play out.
Often times in these situations things work themselves out whether because of an injury or how things play out on the field.
If everything is equal and all five are available, they could potentially make all five active, but that wouldn’t make much sense since having an extra running back would impact another position. But, the likely case in that scenario is making Taylor inactive. The undrafted rookie is involved in the return game, but they could very easily find a replacement in Kyle Dugger or Damiere Byrd.
White is obviously more of a pass-catcher out of the backfield and then Harris and Burkhead’s styles fit the new-look Patriots offense best. Even though Michel is coming off his best game in a long time, he could see his workload go down in the coming weeks.
Having to make all these decisions potentially will be tough, but they are what many coaches in the league would love to have.