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Training Camp Competition: Patriots Running Backs

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New England Patriots' Kevin Harris runs against the Houston Texans during an NFL preseason football game at Gillette Stadium, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2023 in Foxborough, Mass. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)

The New England Patriots 53-man roster has more openings up for grabs than in the recent memory. There could be over 20 roster spots determined by training camp and preseason performance. Leading up to final roster cutdowns, Patriots Football Now will continue to feature training camp competitions. These could involve players battling for starting positions or roster spots. Today’s feature is New England’s running backs.

Rhamondre Stevenson signed a four-year contract extension last month to remain with New England. Antonio Gibson joined the Patriots in free agency, agreeing to a three-year deal. Stevenson and Gibson are expected to form a formidable one-two punch out of the backfield for the foreseeable future.

New England needs running back depth on the roster. However, when the Patriots broke camp last season they only kept two running backs (Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott) on the 53-man roster. RB Pierre Strong Jr. was traded to the Cleveland Browns for Tyrone Wheatley Jr. just before final cuts. Kevin Harris, Ty Montgomery, and J.J. Taylor were released and exposed to waivers. Harris and Montgomery signed with the Patriots practice squad and eventually worked their way onto the active roster.

Also Read – New England Patriots All-Time Staff and Roster of the Bill Belichick Era

How will the Patriots handle their running back situation in 2024? They carry six backs on their 90-man roster at the moment. Will they keep only two running backs again? New England can take their chances exposing the other four to waivers, assuming they’ll be able to bring at least two back to the practice squad. But if somebody pops in camp, they could make themselves too valuable to risk exposing to waivers.

A look at the four reserve running backs battling for a spot on the 53-man roster:

Kevin Harris

New England drafted Harris in the sixth round (No. 183 overall) of the 2022 NFL Draft. His first two NFL seasons played out very similarly. The Patriots released Harris during the final roster cutdowns (to 53) in both seasons. They signed him to their practice squad both years as well. And in both seasons he appeared in a handful of games and received a handful of carries.

Kevin Harris played in nine games over two seasons in New England. He’s rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries (3.4 yards/attempt). He caught three passes for 58 yards as well.

JaMycal Hasty

Hasty is a four-year NFL veteran. He signed with San Francisco after not being selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. He spent two seasons with the 49ers before signing with the Jaguars. Hasty spent all of 2022 and part of 2023 in Jacksonville before being waived on Nov. 11, 2023. He was claimed off waivers by the New England Patriots, with whom he finished the season.

While Harris measures 5-foot-10 and 225 pounds, Hasty comes in at 5-foot-8 and 205. He does not have the size to take a regular beating as a featured back but has proven himself valuable in the passing game. His NFL totals are 101 carries for 410 yards and four touchdowns rushing. He’s added 50 receptions for 316 yards and another score.

JaMycal Hasty has also proven he can contribute as a kick returner and a special teams player. He recorded five tackles in 202 with San Francisco. Proving to be versatile is key to all non-starters earning roster spots.

Deshaun Fenwick

The undrafted free agent split his collegiate career between South Carolina and Oregon State. With the Gamecocks he served as the backup to Kevin Harris. Fenwick took on a secondary role with Beavers (behind Damien Martinez) as well. Fenwick brings a different dimension than the other options. He stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 233 pounds. Fenwick proved he can take on short-yardage situations, scoring 12 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He never fumbled in his 385 college carries.

Fenwick is big and sure-handed. He is also the slowest member of the backfield. He ran a 4.77 40-yard dash before the draft. However, his game film makes him appear more fast and athletic than his measurables indicate.

While Hasty might earn a spot through his receiving ability and versatility, Deshaun Fenwick can carve a niche out for himself as a goal line and short-yardage specialist.

Terrell Jennings

Another big back who signed with New England as a UDFA, Jennings stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 225 pounds. Jennings has a connection to the Patriots already, having been a childhood friend of wide receiver DeMario Douglas. He played collegiately for Florida A&M, an HBCU.

Jennings rushed for 1,754 yards and 24 touchdowns in his college career with the Rattlers. Last season he averaged an impressive 5.6 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns. Terrell Jennings ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. No running back who ran a faster time at the NFL Scouting Combine was as big as Jennings. His combination of size and speed makes him an intriguing prospect. His leap in competition from the SWAC to the NFL makes him a total wild card heading into camp.

PFN Prediction

New England kept only two running backs on their initial 53-man roster out of camp a year ago. They may follow suit again in 2024. However, all four of these players have an opportunity to stick as a third back on the roster. Nobody wants to see any preseason injuries, but they are an inevitable part of football. If Rhamondre Stevenson gets injured, Kevin Harris appears most likely to take his place on the roster. If Antonio Gibson goes down, JaMycal Hasty is poised to become the Patriots receiving back. But if everyone stays healthy, one of these four backs could still make the roster.

A year ago, the New England Patriots did not seem worried about losing their released running backs before bringing them back to the practice squad. If Harris, Hasty, Fenwick, or Jennings is going to make the 53-man roster out of training camp, they’ll need to pop in preseason. To earn a roster spot the players can’t just emerge as the third-best back in camp. They also need to show enough that they’d be claimed off waivers if released by the Patriots. If everyone remains healthy, the undrafted rookies might have the best chance to explode on the scene in camp and stick on the initial roster.

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