Monday it was confirmed from multiple sources, the fear that Patriots Nation had all Sunday night. Running Back Dion Lewis was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Lewis had been a pleasant surprise this season as he took a futures contract and turned it into a two year extension. When training camp was getting underway, this writer did not think much of him, I even left him off of my running back projections, as I thought of him as nothing more than a camp body. I was wrong and surely I wasn’t the only person. Lewis as Tom Brady predicted became an instant cult hero in New England with his moves and ability to pick up valuable yardage. The Patriots now face the rest of the season without him. Let’s look at who could be the next man up.
Currently on the Roster
The second year player out of Wisconsin is the most logical choice to fill in for Lewis as the passing back. White has shown some signs of being a good football player. He was the starter in the preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers and looked to have nice moves. This season against the Jets he played in place of an injured Lewis and caught three passes for 26 yards. On the season White has only seven carries for 15 yards, to go along with seven receptions for 52 yards. He will in all likely hood get the passing back chores this week against the New York Giants as he knows the offense and has already filled the role.
Bolden is a very good special teamer, and while he filled in admirably on Sunday catching a touchdown pass, he is very limited in what he can do. Bolden makes the most out of plays that are blocked perfectly. He can not get yards on his own. While Bolden was called upon in the 2013 season to fill the third down role for an injured Shane Vereen, it would be a mistake for the Patriots to rely on him for anything more than he is.
Free Agents that may get the call.
Cadet was signed to a two year contract by the Patriots this off-season. He was cut in September to make room for the acquisition of Jon Bostic. Cadet looked great in early training camp action, and looked to be the odds on favorite to replace Shane Vereen. However an injury sideline him and Lewis took off. Cadet has had success in the league. Last season he caught 38 passes for the Saints. In his only game for the Patriots this season he caught one pass for two yards. Cadet certainly can man the responsibilities in the passing game that Lewis had. Most notably the ability to line up in the slot or out wide. The move to bring him back makes since as he has a familiarity with the offense. It would be ironic if Lewis’ injury lead to Cadet having a break out with the Patriots.
Ball was released by the Broncos this season and has not yet found his way onto an NFL roster. Ball was brought in for a look by the Patriots earlier in the season. While Ball isn’t the typical passing back he has had success in the league. His rookie year of 2013 he ran the ball for 559 yards to go along with 20 receptions. Injuries, the emergence of CJ Anderson in Denver and a coaching change led to Ball being cut. Bringing Ball in to team with fellow former Badger James White could be a great move by the Patriots. I believe this would be a very sound move for the Patriots. Ball has talent and can run the rock between the tackles as well as outside. He would be my pick for the player to bring in.
Archer was just release by the Steelers. He is a hybrid running back, wide receiver. He can catch the ball and is fast but he is a long shot to really make much of a difference on this team. Archer could fill a role as a returner on special teams, but again there does not seem to be much upside to signing this player. The Patriots did make a move to acquire a former Steeler last year in Blount. However I would not expect it this year.
Huge Long Shot
Rice hasn’t played a down in the NFL since his domestic abuse suspension and subsequent elevator video was released. At one point Rice was one of the best backs in the NFL. He was a game changer. Rice had a down season in 2013 with only 3.1 yards per carry. He still managed 58 receptions that year. While Rice comes with the baggage of his past abuse, he has shown remorse. Rice did play at Rutgers, so putting him in a locker room that is very pro Rutgers could help. It should be pointed out that before his incident Rice was a model NFL player. Everyone deserves a second chance, perhaps this Patriots team will give him one. The PR might not be worth it, but if anyone can make it happen the Patriots can.
Regardless of where the Patriots turn, one thing is for certain, Lewis was having a special year. The Patriots offense will not be as good without Lewis in the lineup. Josh McDaniels will need to find a play maker to make up for the loss of Lewis. One area that I hope the Patriots do not move away from is the screen game. The Patriots started to institute the half back screen back into their offense this year. The success that the plays had were huge, think back to 3rd and 16 against the Miami Dolphins. After the Patriots lost Danny Woodhead, they lost the screen game. Shane Vereen caught the ball well out of the backfield, however screens were not used well. Lewis was also a very adept pass blocker, he was as good as any Patriots back since Kevin Faulk. Everyone is replaceable, the Patriots will just need to dig a little deeper this time around.Follow @alexmoss