Patriots RB Ruled Out For Bills Rematch, Rash of Injuries at the Position

Getty Rhamondre Stevenson

The New England Patriots have a situation at running back. While starter Damien Harris is listed as questionable for Sunday’s huge rematch with the Buffalo Bills after Friday’s practice, rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson has been ruled out due to an illness.

Wide receiver Nelson Agholor and rookie defensive back Joshuah Bledsoe are also out, per this tweet from USA Today’s Henry McKenna:

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Eight Patriots showed up on the injured list Friday, including Harris and veteran Brandon Bolden. All of them were listed as questionable. If they cannot go, it would leave the Patriots with J.J. Taylor (who recently returned from the COVID-19 list) and late-season signee Devine Ozigbo. The latter is currently on the practice squad, and he could be elevated for the game if the Patriots are as thin as it appears they will be for Sunday’s battle with the Bills.

Even if the Patriots do elevate Ozigbo, would Bill Belichick be content with him and Taylor as his only options in the backfield? It seems a little unlikely.

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Jonnu Smith Could Be an Option at RB

One of the most intriguing aspects of Jonnu Smith’s game is his versatility. We haven’t seen a ton of it this season, but the tight end has had some success out of the backfield as a receiver and a ball carrier.

Smith has 7 rushes this season for 30 yards, which is good for a 4.8-yard-per-carry average. Smith had another big run inside the five in the Week 15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, but it was wiped away by a penalty. Mixing in a few carries with Smith to supplement the workload with Taylor and Ozigbo might be the best possible approach if neither Harris or Bolden can play.

Is This Injury Situation More Gamesmanship From the Patriots?

New England hasn’t always been the most revealing team when it comes to the specifics of an injury report. You can bet the Patriots coaching staff has a pretty good idea if Harris and Bolden will be available.

Chances are one or both will suit up. If that happens, New England won’t be overly restricted at the position. When you consider the Patriots leaned on their running game so heavily when they beat the Bills on December 6 (Mac Jones only threw three passes the entire game), it stands to reason the Patriots will be hoping to work that aspect of their offense again in the rematch.

There were 50 mph winds to contend with on that Monday night game, which the Patriots won 14-10, so we’d expect to see more passing on Sunday from New England. Still, the Patriots haven’t placed that much responsibility on Mac Jones’ shoulders as a pure passer so far this season, so it’s more likely New England will need a solid group of rushers to carry a heavy load.

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