New England running back Dion Lewis has been brought along slowly in the offense throughout the 2017 season, but as the Patriots enter the homestretch, it will be interesting to see if he’s ever truly unleashed.
The Patriots backfield is deep with Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee — Brandon Bolden has served strictly in a special teams role but he’s available, too. Even with Gillislee having been worked out of the rotation of late, we know that Lewis probably will never be in the sort of position to receive 30 touches a game.
However, the fact that Lewis hasn’t seen more than 30 offensive snaps in a game this season means there still could be an additional level of involvement and that should be a concerning thought for opposing defenses.
After playing sparingly (12.8 snaps per game) in the first five games of the season, Lewis has seen his workload expanded to more than double that (26.7 snaps per game) over the last six games. When he’s on the field, the Patriots are giving him the ball, too.
Lewis has a touch in exactly half of the offensive snaps he’s played in 2017 (112 touches on 224 snaps) and has been given at least 14 touches in five consecutive games. And he’s been incredibly productive with those opportunities, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, which is good for fifth in the NFL, and catching 15 of 16 targets for 87 yards and a score.
Pro Football Focus has given him an impressive 86.9 rating and ranks him fourth among all qualifying running backs. He’s also coming off his most impressive performance as a runner all season with 15 carries for 112 yards against the Dolphins.
New England likes to protect him because of his slighter frame (5-foot-8, 195 pounds), but he’s only gotten better with more involvement, so the possibility that he sees 20 or more touches a game when the matchup suits Bill Belichick down the stretch is incredibly intriguing.
Yes, they like White as their top receiving option out of the backfield and Burkhead has done some nice things, but Lewis is the best all-around back they have and in an offense that loves versatility, that also makes him the player that works in the largest variety of packages.
So hopefully Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels truly unleash him as they head toward the postseason.