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It’s no secret the New England Patriots have lacked high-end weapons in recent years. Luckily for Bill Belichick, though, he appears to have a Pro Bowl-caliber playmaker who could help Mac Jones and Co. take a significant leap forward in 2022. 

And if fantasy football owners are looking for the ultimate value pick at running back, there’s no doubt the Patriots’ next breakout star should be high on their draft-day wish list.

James White’s health status has major implications for the Patriots’ offense

What will New England’s backfield look like in 2022? That’s a tricky question to answer for multiple reasons. First, James White’s availability for the upcoming season remains a mystery. Coming off a hip injury that limited him to just three games, the three-time Super Bowl champion doesn’t sound ready for game action any time soon. 

“White was still walking with what appeared to be an uncomfortable gait following a community appearance Wednesday,” Mike Reiss of ESPN reported recently. “He is among the rehabbing players scheduled to report to training camp next week, where it should become clearer how close he is to possibly returning.” 

The 30-year-old has held down the Patriots’ primary passing back role since 2015, with his most productive season coming in 2018 when he set personal bests in targets (123), receptions (87), yards (751), and touchdowns (7). However, not only did White’s season-ending injury prevent him from surpassing 400 career catches, but it also left New England’s offense without one of its most reliable players. 

With their top third-down back out by October, the Patriots leaned heavily on veteran Brandon Bolden (41 catches for 405 yards and 2 TD) in passing situations. In an ideal world, however, White would be the No. 1 option.

Moving forward, though, it’s difficult to predict whether he will play the same role. 
Then again, New England may be better suited to put a younger, more physically gifted back on the field much more often in 2022.

Talent and opportunity give Rhamondre Stevenson superstar upside in New England

Rhamondre Stevenson during a Patriots-Bills matchup in December 2021
Rhamondre Stevenson of the New England Patriots on the field before a game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on December 6, 2021 | Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

Sure, Damien Harris led the Patriots in rushing yards (929) and touchdowns (15) a year ago. But with legitimate durability concerns (he’s played 27 games since entering the league as a third-round pick in 2019) and an expiring contract, there’s a solid chance the 25-year-old will be playing elsewhere in 2023. Plus, even though Harris is by no means a bad pass-catcher, it’s certainly not his forte. 

On the other hand, though, neither White nor Harris boasts the upside of Rhamondre Stevenson. A 6-foot, 227-pound bruiser with incredibly quick feet, he made a major impact as a rotational piece as a rookie. After joining the team as a fourth-round pick, he racked up 606 yards and five touchdowns on 133 carries, plus 123 yards on 14 catches.

Given the Patriots’ offensive line issues and the fact he was a rookie playing alongside a rookie quarterback, Stevenson’s highly productive first year in Foxborough should have fans and fantasy owners excited about his future. 

After all, the notoriously value-driven Belichick must be intrigued about building around a back with a cheap contract and the skills to deliver on all three downs. Stevenson’s unique physical tools, combined with an offensive line that should be a top-10 unit, gives the Patriots a chance to be even more effective on offense than they were in 2021 when they finished sixth in scoring at 27.2 points per game.

Fantasy owners shouldn’t sleep on Stevenson going higher than his current ADP


New England Patriots: The 7 Most Important Players for Bill Belichick in 2022

Don’t be surprised if Stevenson sees his touches increase significantly this season. He recorded 147 in 12 games, but that figure could easily surpass 200, especially depending on how White’s recovery progresses. 

For fantasy owners trying to get serious bang for their buck, it’s hard not to put Stevenson atop the value list. FantasyPros has his ADP (average draft position) at 103, which puts him as RB37. For comparison, Harris’ ADP is 66, which puts him as RB27. 

Assuming the big-bodied Stevenson remains healthy and doesn’t miss any time, he should receive at least 10 carries per game. That would already put him at 170 for the season, and that mark could go up quickly if the injury-prone Harris gets banged up. 

What makes the budding star even more tantalizing is his potential to rack up points in the passing game. Stevenson only generated 18 targets as a rookie, but if he proves capable of handling third-down duties and is a more effective option than White, that number could be somewhere around 50—if not higher. 

Let’s not forget the Patriots have a highly athletic offensive line that includes first-round rookie Cole Strange, 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn, veteran center David Andrews, powerful third-year guard Michael Onwenu and towering tackle Trent Brown. Drawing up screen plays that allow those blockers to get out in space would be an excellent way to take advantage of Stevenson’s tackle-breaking ability and could open the door for huge gains and scoring chances. 

Simply put, Rhamondre Stevenson is the most talented running back on the Patriots. And if you want to round out your fantasy roster with someone who boasts RB1 upside, don’t wait too long to scoop up the second-year pro.

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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