Arbella Early Edition

Forecasting how Elliott, Stevenson will split reps in Pats' offense

The Patriots have an intriguing 1-2 punch at running back.

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Ezekiel Elliott's New England Patriots tenure is off to a good start. The veteran running back says he's been "lov(ing) the atmosphere" in Foxboro and believes he's a "good fit" with the team, while his teammates have shared glowing initial reviews.

But there's still a pressing question to be answered: How much will New England use Elliott this season?

The 28-year-old is second on the RB depth chart behind Rhamondre Stevenson, who ranked ninth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage last season (1,461) as the Patriots' workhorse back. Elliott isn't your typical backup, however: The three-time Pro Bowler racked up 876 rushing yards last season (after an 1,000-yard campaign in 2021) and tallied 12 rushing touchdowns, tied for fifth in the league.

So, how might new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien divvy up the reps between Stevenson and Elliott? Our Phil Perry still sees Stevenson atop the depth chart with Elliott playing a complementary role -- similar to his 2022 role alongside Tony Pollard, who led the Dallas Cowboys with 1,007 rushing yards.

🔊 Next Pats: Zeke Elliott is the PERFECT complement to Rhamondre Stevenson | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"I think this is sort of the under-the-radar reason why it made sense to bring him in in the first place," Perry told co-hosts Trenni Casey and Amina Smith on NBC Sports Boston's Arbella Early Edition, as seen in the video player above.

"Somebody like Dalvin Cook wants to be the lead dog. He wants to get all the work. He wants to be 1st, 2nd and 3rd down and short yardage and on the goal line, oh by the way. Whereas Ezekiel Elliot had a whole year ... with Tony Pollard on that roster playing a real role in Dallas. He understands what it means to share the workload, especially at this point in his career.

"He should want to share the workload, too. The same way we've talked about, 'Rhamondre Stevenson should want somebody there to help him out to keep him fresh' -- Ezekiel Elliott needs the same thing."

With Damien Harris limited to nine games due to injury, the Patriots leaned heavily on Stevenson last season: His 279 total touches (210 rushing attempts, 69 receptions) were tied for 10th-most in the NFL. So, the third-year back should benefit from having another strong rusher on the roster.

Perry envisions Elliott adopting a workload slightly greater than that of Harris, who averaged 9.6 rushes and 1.5 receptions per game in those nine contests.

"The Damien Harris role plus, is how I'm thinking of Ezekiel Elliott's workload coming up here," Perry added. "When Harris was healthy -- he didn't play every game last year, but he averaged about 11 touches per game. So, maybe you're talking 12 or 13 (touches) per game, maybe even a little bit more than that, for Ezekiel Elliott?

"There may be some games where it's almost a 50-50 split between him and Rhamondre Stevenson. That wouldn't shock me. I'd still expect Stevenson to be the No. 1 guy, but if every once in a while, you've got to give a few more (touches) to Ezekiel Elliott to keep Stevenson fresh, they should be OK with that."

Elliott has never had fewer than 13.9 rushing attempts per game in a season, so he may have to accept a slightly diminished role in New England. He excels in short-yardage situations, however, so he could see plenty of goal-line and third-down carries while giving Stevenson a breather in those scenarios.

The bottom line: Expect Stevenson's workload to dip slightly from his massive target share in 2022, and expect Elliott to receive north of 10 touches per game while getting plenty of opportunities to score.

NBC Sports' Mike Florio and Chris Simms also broke down how Elliott might be used in New England's offense. You can watch their discussion in the video below.

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