Phil Perry

Why Zeke is an ideal complement to Stevenson in the Pats backfield

Ezekiel Elliott will give the Patriots much-needed running back depth behind Rhamondre Stevenson.

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The Patriots got the help they needed at the running back position. 

According to a source familiar with the situation, the team is adding free-agent Ezekiel Elliott to its backfield. The deal is for one year and carries a maximum value of $6 million. Elliott could join the team in time to be with the club during its joint practices in Green Bay later this week. 

In Elliott, the Patriots receive critical depth at a thin position that has gotten even thinner in recent days. It's not all they need to fill out their offense. But it's a start. Here are five reasons why.

Rhamondre Stevenson can't do it all

In his second year, Stevenson played in all 17 games and racked up 210 carries. He also saw 88 targets as a receiver and caught 69. As nice a year as it was for him -- he established himself as one of the most physical runners in the game, leading the league among qualifiers in yards after contact per attempt (3.81) -- he clearly wore down by season's end.

Elliott has logged plenty of miles in his seven-year NFL career, but he's still 28 years old and he's been healthy enough to take on at least 230 carries per season every season.

Stevenson remains an every-down back; this isn't going to be the kind of old-fashioned split between a "big back" and a "sub back" the Patriots have featured before. But Elliott's toughness made him an attractive addition for Bill Belichick, and his work between the tackles and in short-yardage (more on that in a minute) should help Stevenson be something closer to his best in December and January. 

Elliott doesn't fumble

Not recently, at least. In 503 carries over the last two seasons, he's fumbled just one time.

"Dependability is the most important ability," Belichick says. There's also "ball security is job security." Choose your Patriots mantra. Elliott is a pretty good fit for what they like at the running back position because he doesn't give it away.

Elliott is a short-yardage weapon

According to TruMedia, Elliott is one of the best backs in the league when it comes to getting something when he's given the ball. His percentage of carries that went for zero or negative yardage in 2022 was fifth-best in football. He was also seventh-best when asked to convert on third down. Stevenson was 25th and 28th in those marks, respectively.

Per the Washington Post's Expanded Football Stats, Elliott was fifth among backs converting third-and-short. He was fourth in converting runs inside the 10 into touchdowns (10 of 24). He was fourth converting carries inside the 3-yard line into scores (8 of 11). This duo has the makings of a complementary pair.

Elliott understands how to pass-protect

While Tony Pollard was more of the passing-game back for the Cowboys last year, Elliott does carry some third-down value. Among players with at least 40 pass-blocking snaps last year, per Pro Football Focus, Elliott had the fifth-best pressure rate allowed (14.4). In 2021, he was No. 1 in that category (13.0).

Stevenson is still the better passing-game player between these two at this stage, but if pressed into duty on third down, Elliott can give them something.

Depth behind Stevenson is... lacking

Kevin Harris has had ample opportunity in camp to show that he's a capable No. 2 behind Stevenson. Hasn't happened. He has had issues in short-yardage -- both in practice and in last week's preseason game with the Texans -- and he hasn't provided much in terms of being a receiving option.

Ty Montgomery has been hurt for the vast majority of camp. And now the team has been without Pierre Strong the last two days of practice.

The backs behind Stevenson on Monday were J.J. Taylor and recent signee CJ Marable. The Patriots desperately needed a capable veteran behind Stevenson, and they got one who -- on paper, at least -- looks like a good fit.

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