Fantasy Reaction: Rex Burkhead Signs With Patriots

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The New England Patriots have signed free agent running back, Rex Burkhead. Formally of the Cincinnati Bengals, Burkhead will enter the 2017 season with just 87 career carries. 74 coming last year, including 27 carries in the last game of the season. We have not seen much from the 190th overall pick in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL draft, but that did not stop the Patriots from scooping him up with a 1 year, $3.1M contract. The Patriots made this move looking for someone who can pick up the tough, short yardage plays and goal-line work to replace the production they had in that area from LeGarrette Blount, who is not expected to return to New England. Rex Burkhead can be that guy for the Patriots offense if he can extend his 4.6 yards per carry from 2016 into the 2017 season.

Fantasy Reaction: Rex Burkhead

Since this is a fantasy reaction article, I felt it was fitting to get the reaction of none other than The Fantasy Hitman, Mike Wright. Mike has made his love for Rex Burkhead known to all on The Fantasy Footballers podcast. I wanted to ask him a few questions and get his take on Burkhead, where he fits in with the Patriots’ offense and his fantasy value in 2017.

Question 1: Why are you so excited about Rex Burkhead?
MW: The exciting thing about Burkhead is the unknown potential he brings. 2 years ago, Dion Lewis was all but unknown. Suddenly he’s on a top scoring offense in the league, with possibly the best football mind the NFL has ever seen and he becomes an RB1. Lewis hasn’t been able to stay healthy, unfortunately, missing almost the entire year before pulling up lame in the Super Bowl. Now Burkhead has been given a decent sized contract. We have at least seen Burkhead, yes only 1 game, but we’ve seen what he’s capable of. Add in currently missing Blount’s 18 rushing TD’s and there’s a wild opportunity for Rex.

Question 2: What role do you imagine him playing in the Patriots backfield?
MW: This is the most speculative part. Every time we think we know what Billy B will do, he flips it on us. But it’s more than possible that R.Birkenstocks plays a hybrid of Lewis/Blount. Rex is similar in size to the backs that Bill Belichick has used and had success with before. The majority of goal line work would be the opportunity that sends Rex to fantasy stardom.

Question 3: Where do you see his fantasy value in 2017?
MW: Rex can be anything from an RB1 through a back that never plays an offensive snap. It will be interesting to see if the team moves on from Lewis, which his contract is easily absorbed. Rex will scream up the ADP if this happens. I have no clue right now what draft price players will be willing to spend on Rex. I’d guess around 6/7 range. No matter what, he’s a name that will make this draft season fun.

Fantasy Reaction: The Rest of the New England Patriots’ Backfield

Dion Lewis is expected to be the 1st and 2nd down back. As The Hitman mentioned, if Lewis for any reason doesn’t remain with the Patriots, this would open up the flood-gates of fantasy production for Rex Burkhead. For now, Lewis is the guy to set the pace of New England’s offense. It is worth mentioning that Dion Lewis has only played in 14 regular season games out of a possible 32 for the Patriots the last 2 seasons. So injury is absolutely a concern and should be factored when discussing Lewis’ potential. He also averaged 4.4 yards per carry last season, just slightly under Burkhead’s YPC numbers, so maybe there is more to this Burkhead signing and less about Lewis being “the guy” in New England.

James White should act as the change of pace, 3rd down receiving option again. 60 receptions for 551 yards (2016) isn’t a bad thing to have coming out of a 3rd down back. He is not a starter, but contrary to Dion Lewis, White has played in 30 of 32 regular season games for the Patriots the last 2 seasons, including all 16 games in 2016 where he averaged 4.3 yards per carry, just .01 YPC under what Dion Lewis accomplished last year.

LaGarrette Blount should not be a factor but, up until this point, I have not heard of any other team publicly interested in him. I can’t imagine the Patriots keeping Lewis, White, and Blount after the Burkhead signing. Someone has to go. With the money Blount will want, all signs point to him leaving New England. If by some chance he remains with the team, this backfield becomes a lot harder to decipher. Something the Patriots pride themselves on, so it’s not completely out of the realm of possibilities.

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At the end of the day, I expect Rex Burkhead to get a smaller share of snaps. I imagine he will fit into the role of short-yardage and goal-line duties which in turn will make him a TD-reliant option in fantasy but his chances of getting those touchdowns in this offense will be plenty. I’m not sure there are many other free agent signings that leave you guessing the 2017 outcome more than Rex Burkhead, and his yet-to-be-determined role with the Patriots. Of course, there are other factors that once played out, will help paint a better picture of Burkhead’s involvement in this offense. Until then, because we are talking about the Patriots, your guess is as good as mine.

Watch The Fantasy Footballers’ Rex Burkhead discussion on the Free Agency Winners & Losers episode.

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