New England Patriots: Can Mike Gillislee replace LeGarrette Blount?

With LeGarrette Blount departing to the Philadelphia Eagles, the New England Patriots won’t suffer much thanks to Mike Gillislee

If the New England Patriots hadn’t been sure to acquire two new running backs — former Cincinnati Bengal Rex Burkhead and ex-Buffalo Bill Mike Gillislee — they would have Brandon Bolden, James White and Dion Lewis as the main backfield core. Lewis and White have proved their worth catching out of the backfield and showing toughness between the tackles at points.

But the Patriots need a back capable of bearing the one-cut-and-go, up-the-gut workload that Blount provided. That’s where Gillislee, who signed a two-year contract worth $6.4 million in April, comes in handy.

Based on a 2013 NFL Draft scouting reporting from NFL.com, Gillislee was viewed as “a solid runner capable of carrying the load when given the opportunity” and “willing to lower pads in short-yardage and lean to get the extra yard.”

Similar to Blount, the quality vision of Gillislee can create long gains where he demonstrates his foot speed. Gillislee can also catch the ball out of the backfield if called upon. His wide-ranging abilities drew the Patriots interest. After all, New England head coach Bill Belichick likes to have versatile players, or a player who truly excels at a select few characteristics.

“Stats are for losers,” Belichick famously said, via NESN.com. “The final score is for winners.”

However, statistics have shown Gillislee to be one of the most effective running backs in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Gillislee was considerably difficult to tackle. Out of 62 qualified halfbacks in 2016, he ranked eighth with a 57.6 elusive rating, which aims to measure the impact of a runner separate from the level of blocking available to him. The University of Florida product averaged 3.34 yards after contact per attempt, ranking third among qualified backs.

While you can’t definitively predict the success of Gillislee based on the triumphs of wide receiver Chris Hogan, Belichick likely noticed similarities between the two.

They demonstrated eye-catching talent in Buffalo before coming to Foxborough, and neither of them were originally starters. As a Bill, Hogan had his best game in the 2015 season against the Patriots, snagging six catches for 95 yards on Monday night. Last season, Gillislee amassed his second-highest rushing total, 85 yards on 12 carries, against the Patriots.

Hogan went on to notch multiple career-high numbers, including total receiving yards (680) and receptions (38), in his first year with New England. Meanwhile, while playing for the Patriots’ AFC East rival in western New York, Gillislee averaged 5.7 yards per carry and tallied 101 attempts on the ground — his best year to date.

Scoring 18 rushing touchdowns, Blount was exceptional in 2016, but is transitioning out his prime at 30 years old. Gillislee is 26 years old and ready to improve.

“I ended up with the best, [coming] here to a winning squad,” Gillislee said, per The Boston Globe. “No offense against Buffalo, but [I’m glad] just to come here and continue to help this team win games.”

Obviously losing 18 touchdowns from offensive production is nothing to look past. However, with Blount signing in Philadelphia, the Patriots won’t be too hard-pressed to replace his type of running ability. Gillislee seems primed to fill that role.

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