This is the second in a series of position-by-position looks at the Patriots' personnel entering the 2011 offseason. Today, we bring you an analysis of New England's RB situation.
Overview: Few people would have expected that the Patriots, without Laurence Maroney and with injuries to Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk, would finish eighth in the league in rushing, and it was thanks to two undrafted backs.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the No. 4 back on the depth chart in the preseason, vaulted into the starting role early in the season with Taylor battling toe injuries and Maroney falling out of favor before being traded Sept. 14. Green-Ellis responded with a career year.
Faulk tore his ACL in Week Two and the Patriots found a formidable replacement in the diminutive Danny Woodhead, who had been cast off by the Jets as one of their last cuts. Woodhead went on to tally 926 yards from scrimmage.
Veteran RB Sammy Morris rarely got carries, but was a key performer on special teams.
Here's a breakdown of each of the running backs on the roster:
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: Nicknamed "The Law Firm," Green-Ellis rushed for 1,008 yards and 13 scores, the highest rushing output by a Patriot since Corey Dillon rushed for 1,600 yards in 2004. Green-Ellis is a free agent, but Bill Belichick is a fan of his style and the team likely will re-sign him. Green-Ellis helped the Patriots lead the league in turnover margin by not fumbling once all season.
Danny Woodhead: The diminutive Woodhead became a fan favorite in replacing Faulk as the team's third-down back. Whether it was running, catching, blocking or special teams, the 5-8, 195-pounder was a key contributor to the Patriots. He was rewarded with a contract extension and should play the same role next season.
Fred Taylor: It was a tough season for the veteran who looked good in the season opener, rushing for 71 yards on 14 carries. Taylor suffered toe injuries to both feet and didn't play from Weeks 4-12. He returned at the end of the season, playing sparingly and was inactive for the Pats' playoff loss. Taylor, 35, is a free agent. He could retire or return on a one-year deal.
Sammy Morris: Morris had his least productive season since 2005, rushing for just 56 yards on 20 carries. Due to be a free agent, he turns 34 in March and is another candidate to retire. Morris was valuable on special teams, particularly on kick coverage and blocking on kickoff returns.
Kevin Faulk: One of Belichick's favorite players, Faulk suffered a season-ending injury in Week Two after compiling 107 total yards. At age 34, Faulk is a free agent and like Taylor and Morris, could retire, but he appears committed to returning to health and playing in 2011. He has spent his entire career in New England and, with Woodhead on the roster, would probably have to take a hometown discount to stay.
Bottom line: Assuming Green-Ellis re-signs, this group is solid. But with four of the Patriots' five backs due to become free agents, three of whom could retire or choose to go elsewhere, many signs point to the team drafting a running back in April. The Pats are not a primary-back type of team, and they would benefit from a steady complement to Green-Ellis with Woodhead remaining in a third-down role.