Dion Lewis: Mack Herron 2.0

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Faulk never did it.

Danny Woodhead never did it.

Shane Vereen did it once in his career.

Dion Lewis, the smallest running back in the Patriots backfield, rushed for 100 yards in a game in 2017. Twice.

Lewis, listed at 5-8 195, wasn’t supposed to be New England’s workhorse. Mike Gillislee was signed as a free agent for that role. Lewis was part of the Patriots’ stable of third down backs, threats primarily as receivers in New England’s offense.

That approach was thrown out the window by week six when Lewis out-performed Gillislee against the New York Jets. Since then Lewis has shouldered the majority of the workload, though it wasn’t a full load.

Until Christmas Eve. With both James White and Rex Burkhead unavailable, Lewis had 24 attempts for 129 yards against the Buffalo Bills, both career highs. He added five receptions for 24 yards and a score plus two kickoff returns for 43 yards.

A week later against the New York Jets Lewis had 26 carries for 93 yards and a score. He added six receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown.

Before then, Lewis’ season high for touches in 2017 was 19, and for good reason. Lewis never completed a 16-game season until this season. His previous high was 15 games in 2011 with the Philadelphia Eagles. But Lewis had just 24 touches total, half coming in the season finale against the Washington Redskins.

In Lewis’ 5-year career, he suffered a broken leg in 2013, an ACL tear in 2015, and a patella fracture in 2016 according to SportsInjuryPredictor.com. The general NFL belief is undersized running backs aren’t as durable as their full-sized peers. Until 2017, Lewis confirmed that maxim.

The Patriots want Lewis on the field, as New England’s winning percentage with Lewis is a phenomenal 27-3 in the regular season, 3-0 in the playoffs. Preserving Lewis for the second season is very important. But as the stakes rise, so could Lewis’ usage.

If you think Lewis can’t handle it, then you don’t know about Mack Herron. Herron was a 5-5 170-pound blur that played for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, with his best days in New England.

After a rookie season that culminated in 1,839 all-purpose yards on 147 touches and four touchdowns in 14 games, Herron started in 1974, without relinquishing his other duties. Herron gained 2,444 all-purpose yards on 332 touches with 12 touchdowns, a league record at the time.

Again, done by a running/receiving threat that measured 5-5 170 pounds.

Herron averaged 23.7 touches per game during that record-breaking season. In comparison Lewis has 1,680 total yards and eight touchdowns on 235 touches in 2017, just 14.7 touches per game.

Lewis should be feeling fresh based on the standard set by Herron.

New England has time for the backfield to fully recover in time for the divisional round game. It doesn’t mean that the Patriots will continue to play it safe with Lewis during the playoffs.

Lewis is 0.9 yards per carry better than any running back on the roster with at least 25 carries. And as a kick returner, Lewis is in a different class from anyone else on the team.

He’s one of the Patriots’ best weapons. It makes sense to give Lewis more touches as every playoff game is a must-win.

Fortunately the 2016 Patriots aren’t the 1974 Pats. Today New England has two 1,000-yard receivers while the 1974 squad didn’t have one surpass 600 yards. A Sam “Bam” Cunningham type has been replaced by the trio of Gillislee for thumping and the versatile Burkhead and White.

But if the Patriots decide their best chance at winning is to get the ball in Lewis’ hands more, certainly Lewis is all for it. “Mini” Mack Herron could handle a heavy load. Lewis wants a similar chance.

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