As hard as it was to watch New England’s offense last year, it’s even harder to have sympathy for Patriots fans. Six Super Bowls, 9 conference championships, and 17 divisional titles the past 22 years is a lot of vicarious living for the NFL’s most spoiled fanbase, and a 25-25 record since Tom Brady left isn’t even that bad.
If anything, this kind of mediocrity has prevented the rest of us from enjoying full-blown schadenfreude. There’s not even a grave to dance upon. There’s just some milquetoast, third-year quarterback and a defense that’s still pretty good. Greater misfortunes have befallen teams who have won a single Super Bowl and yet the Patriots still just…exist.
So, you’d be forgiven for not watching much of their offense last year. And truthfully, 2023 may not be much more exciting, even after the ousting of Matt Patricia. But, if you do watch them, keep an eye on third-year running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who is already quietly a Top 10 running back in the league.
Stevenson saw a decent amount of work in his first season (despite being out of shape entering the NFL), but nearly doubled his touches from 147 as a rookie to 279 in 2022. His emergence likely factored into New England’s decision to let Damien Harris walk in free agency, and, barring any unforeseen developments, he should be the workhorse in Foxborough going forward.
It’s not hard to understand why, either – Stevenson has very good three-down ability. Backs who are built like him (6’0”, 230 lbs.) are not typically thought of as passing-down backs, but Stevenson is an exception to that rule, if it even is one.
Pass protection is an underrated trait for running backs in the modern NFL, and he’s been excellent in that regard since his time at Oklahoma. In fact, he ranked 1st at his position in Pass Blocking Total Points on both a total and a per-snap basis last year.
He also expanded his role considerably as a receiver and finished fourth in receptions among running backs. He’s not a dynamic route runner who can consistently embarrass linebackers in man coverage, but his feel for settling into open spaces is good and he can make defenders miss after the catch; Among running backs with at least 20 targets, his broken/missed tackle rate on receptions (37%) was fifth-best in the league.
And of course, the running ability is legit, though it was hard to notice at times behind the Patriots offensive line. That unit ranked 30th in the percentage of carries that were stuffed (23%) or hit at the line (45%), and 31st in yards before contact (1.5). In spite of that, Stevenson made it work. He was tied for 2nd in yards after contact/attempt (3.4) and finished 5th in Total Points per play (0.11). The vision, power, and contact balance are obviously good, and those translate well to short yardage and goal line work, where he was 7th in the NFL in Total Points per play among running backs.
Stevenson is not just a bruiser, though. He has good speed for his size and, despite lacking explosive acceleration, has great body control and the ability to gather himself to create awkward tackling angles for pursuers. His broken and missed tackle rate was 14th in the league (minimum 100 carries) and he was actually 7th in boom rate (plays with >1 EPA) at 10.3%. His production was admittedly a bit uneven – ranking 22nd in positive play rate and 34th in bust rate (plays with ≤-1 EPA) – and some of that is on him, but there’s only so much you can do behind that line.
Entering his third year, Stevenson has already proven himself to be both versatile and effective. He may not be as flashy as some of the other big name guys, but he does pretty much everything you want a feature back to do, well. As good as his 2022 campaign was, he should have an even bigger role this year. For a New England offense that has a lot of question marks entering this year, Stevenson isn’t one of them. Look for the 25-year-old to have his best season yet in 2023.