It was seemingly obvious this past off-season that former Buffalo Bills running back Mike Gillislee would fill the void for the New England Patriots that LeGarrette Blount left behind. Blount was a clock melting machine with New England last year, finishing second in the NFL in carries and and first in rushing touchdowns with a hefty 18. However, after starting with three touchdowns in 15 touches, Gillislee has yet to find the end zone. Thus, raising the question; is Dion Lewis the Patriots best fantasy football running back?
Is Dion Lewis the New England Patriots Best Fantasy Football Running Back?
Gillislee started off his inaugural campaign with the Patriots as much like Blount, accumulating three rushing scores on 15 touches. The fourth-year pro followed up with a fourth touchdown and another 18 touches in week two. This is where the Patriots backfield gets interesting.
Gillislee has not found the end zone in over a month and continuously gets out-snapped by pass catching specialist James White. Favorable game scripts for White are part of why he carries the lion’s share of the snaps for Tom Brady’s high octane offense. The rest of it can be explained by Gillislee’s lackluster performance since signing with New England last spring.
Gillislee has not yet earned himself a bell-cow workload based on his overall performance plus his given share of the Patriots backfield snaps. Since week three, his snap share percentages are as follows: 32.8, 25.7, 32.4, 19.1, and a season low 17.6 in a plus matchup against the Atlanta Falcons.
Over this same time period, White has amassed snap share percentages of 48.4, 61.4 (season high), 47.3, 42.6, and 31.1. The Patriots are playing some of the worst defense seen in the Brady era, but finding themselves in constant passing situations only tells part of the story.
Waiver Wire Lewis
It feels like so long ago the fantasy football universe was madly scrambling to grab Patriots running back Dion Lewis from the waiver wire. It was only two years ago that Lewis was accumulating over seven yards per touch and racking up a solid workload of 16.5 total opportunities per game. Lewis was a dynamic receiving back that the Patriots had converted to a bell-cow. Lewis’s breakout season was brought to an abrupt halt after tearing his ACL in just his seventh game of the season.
Fast-forward to 2017, where the Lewis redemption tour has just begun. Lewis has gashed Gillislee’s workload over the last five weeks by vulturing 37 carries and two short touchdowns from him. Gillislee has only outgained Lewis by three yards, despite having 17 more carries over that span. Since week four, Gillislee actually has fewer red zone touches than Lewis.
Overall performance grading requires some advanced analytics outside of the typical yards per carry, total yards gained, and overall fantasy points accumulated. For example, Lewis has forced 13 missed tackles since week three; good for tenth in the NFL over that span, and more than Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy, Todd Gurley III, and backfield mate Gillislee. Gillislee actually ranks 29th in that category with five missed tackles forced.
Lewis is actually proving more difficult to tackle on a per touch basis than nearly everybody. Lewis is running with a .35 missed tackles forced per touch rate since week three, which is second-highest at the position. Lewis ranks higher than the likes of Devonta Freeman, Kareem Hunt, and Le’Veon Bell in that aspect. Gillislee ranks all the way down at 46th with a .09 missed tackles forced per attempt rate, per Pro Football Focus.
Finally, only four running backs are averaging more yards after first contact than Lewis over this five week span. Lewis is averaging over four yards after contact, while Gillislee ranks just 30th with an average of 2.6 yards after first contact. Overall, Lewis has actually accumulated more than double the PPR fantasy points (43) Gillislee has (20) Since Gillislee scored his last touchdown.
Lewis has simply outperformed his teammate since working his way back up the depth chart, particularly in the explosiveness and elusiveness department. Lewis has six carries of at least ten yards this year, despite only having just 43 total carries on the season. Lewis is averaging a run of ten or more yards once every 7.2 carries. Gillislee has just four of such carries this season, despite having 44 more carries. Gillislee carries a rate of 21.8 attempts per ten-yard rush.
Week Seven Versus the Falcons
In week seven versus the Atlanta Falcons, Lewis led the Patriots backfield in snaps, touches, and total yardage gained. It appears he has surpassed every other Patriots running back on the depth chart for early down work. He still doesn’t have the workload through the air that he’s capable of carrying, and James White seems to have that position on lock. The good news is Lewis is still possesses an un-owned rate of nearly 80 percent in ESPN.com leagues. The new feature back in the Patriots offense is probably on your waiver wire.
Dion Lewis offers a more dynamic skill set given his receiving ability, coupled with his superior vision and elusiveness. It’ll be interesting to see how this backfield as a whole is utilized, but it shouldn’t shock anyone if Lewis is a better fantasy option going forward than Gillislee.