Rhamondre Stevenson is a bull.
He’s also a bargain.
The Patriots’ leading rusher (1,040 yards) and pass catcher (69 receptions) this past season, Stevenson has two years remaining on his contract with salary cap hits of approximately $1.1 million (2023) and $1.2 (2024).
Stevenson, who showed glimpses as a rookie in 2021, really broke out in a spectacular sophomore season, becoming the first Patriot to crack 1,000 yards since LeGarrette Blount in 2016. He made sharpening his receiving skills a point of emphasis in the offseason, and it paid off as he became a trusted safety valve/weapon for Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe.
The 6-foot, 230-pounder impressed the coaching staff with his dedication to his craft throughout the season.
“He’s one of the guys that I’ve coached that really has shown just continuous improvement almost every day he walks into the building,” Bill Belichick said in October. “Just in every phase of the game. This kid’s really come a long way in just every part of his game.
“I have a ton of respect for the way he’s worked at his game, improved his training habits. He’s still got a ways to go. But he just gets better at all the things he works at every day. He’s got a long list of them. But he’s made significant progress in so many areas. He’s really been impressive.”
A hard-charging rusher with good instincts and leg drive, Stevenson consistently gives great second and third efforts, often carrying would-be tacklers for extra yards.
Stevenson seemingly gets stronger as the game goes on, possessing the bulk and power to wear down defenses. Because of the toll that style can take, the Patriots need to continue to develop guys who can give Stevenson a break.
Damien Harris was supposed to be the other half of New England’s 1-2 heavyweight rushing punch, but injuries robbed him of opportunities. He missed six games in 2022 and rushed for 462 yards.
Harris is an unrestricted free agent and has expressed a desire to remain in New England. However, with several younger (and more cost-effective) backs in the Patriot pipeline, he likely will find more lucrative opportunities in other outposts.
Ty Montgomery was a surprise summer standout, excelling as both a runner and receiver. He lined up in multiple spots and built a quick and natural rapport with Jones.
Unfortunately, Montgomery’s season was derailed quickly, first by an ankle injury in the final exhibition game in Las Vegas and then by a knee ailment suffered in Week 1 in Miami.
Heading into his ninth NFL season, Montgomery has one year remaining on his contract that carries a very palatable $1.5 million cap hit.
Rookies Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris are poised to take significant steps in their sophomore seasons.
Strong finished 2022 with 10 carries for 100 yards, including a highlight 44-yard prime-time run in the Monday night win over the Cardinals in December.
A well-built 5-10, 205 pounds, Strong also was a core special teamer, with five kickoff returns for 115 yards to go along with six tackles.
Strong has good balance and acceleration. He could expand his role in the receiving game, an area in which he excelled in college with his ability to adjust to poorly thrown balls and keep his feet. If Strong can polish his route running the way Stevenson did, he could have a major impact in Bill O’Brien’s offense in 2023.
Kevin Harris has fullback size (5-10, 225 pounds) and tailback skills. Like Strong, he shined in that Cardinals game (after Stevenson exited with an injury) and his combination of size and strength suggests he could be used as a short-yardage specialist.
J.J. Taylor spent season three on the practice squad except for one call-up. He signed a futures deal, so he’ll get another opportunity to show off his quickness and speed this summer.
Top free agent running backs: Saquon Barkley (Giants), Josh Jacobs (Raiders), Miles Sanders (Eagles), Kareem Hunt (Browns), Damien Harris.
Top draftable running backs: Bijan Robinson (Texas), Kenny McIntosh (Georgia), Jahmyr Gibbs (Alabama), Zach Evans (Ole Miss), Zach Charbonnet (UCLA).
Jim McBride can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.