by Tyler Webb
(Mike McCarn/Associated Press)
Ordinarily, a team favored to win the Super Bowl before the season begins faces little-to-no doubt regarding who will start at a given position. This assurance appeared to be in full effect in the New England Patriots’ instance this offseason, as nearly every starting player on both sides of the ball returned to the squad for another surge at the Lombardi Trophy. However, major injuries to impact players have left the Patriots with some question marks in different spots on the field.
Dion Lewis was without-a-doubt a difference maker for New England last season, racking up 622 total yards and 4 TDs in just 7 games played. After a torn ACL ended Lewis’ year prematurely, he still continued to have issues with injury this offseason, eventually requiring to have a second knee surgery. The recovery time table has been estimated to be 8-10 weeks, with Lewis unable to come back any earlier than week 7 due to his PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list designation.
Once the news of Lewis’ diagnosis was known, many assumed Bill Belichick would acquire a viable running back via trade or free agency. After all, the Patriots were left with an aging, depleted Legarrette Blount, a special teams ace Brandon Bolden, and a mediocre James White to fulfill the backfield snaps which belonged to the ailing Lewis. Belichick passed on every option outside of the organization, leaving the team with a lingering doubt about a key position, even in a pass-happy offense. Could Dion Lewis’ role, production and electricity as a pass catcher be replicated in any degree?
Enter DJ Foster. A 22 year old undrafted rookie out of Arizona State, Foster was one of the better running backs in all of College Football before switching to slot receiver his senior season. While not as productive in his new role, Foster still finished his college career with over 2,000 rushing and receiving yards, becoming just the fourth player in NCAA history to do so (via azcentral).
In the preseason, the ASU grad’s rapid burst of speed is clearly evident, appearing even faster than his 4.57 40-yard dash recorded at the 2016 Draft Combine. Foster’s receiving skills are featured flawlessly in the Pats’ offensive attack, as he racked up 12 receptions for 143 yards in just two games played. DJ did fumble in the preseason finale against New York, but the running back definitely made the most of his opportunity to not only win a roster spot, but to also contend for a starting role in Josh McDaniel’s scheme.
While Foster’s preseason has impressed, many still look at third year back James White to fill Lewis’ void. While White proved to be a decent contributor last season (45 receptions, 443 yards, 4 TDs on 54 targets), he doesn’t possess nearly the same big play or natural, wide receiver-like pass catching ability DJ Foster demonstrates. White may be the more safe option as the temporary replacement for Dion Lewis, but Foster’s speedy, change-of-pace playstyle could give the Patriots’ offense something closer to what Lewis did.
Tyler is a co-host for the Game Time Decision Podcast and can be found on twitter @TheRealTKWebb