In no way is what I’m about to say meant as a shot at Damien Harris — a guy who has emerged as one of the hardest running backs in the league over the past four years and continues to improve as an all-around player.
But he’s not the best running back on the Patriots anymore. Rhamondre Stevenson is. Very clearly.
Sure, Stevenson’s 175 total yards on Sunday (a career-high 161 rushing and 14 receiving) came against the worst defense in football. We can throw that caveat in there. But it doesn’t matter. We’ve seen enough of the 2021 fourth-round pick by now to know he’s the real deal; Sunday is just confirming priors at this point.
"Yeah, he is always good," Bill Belichick said of him after the Week 5 win over the Lions. "He does a great job with the ball in his hands. He is a strong runner, but he can make people miss. He is a really good football player. Really a good football player. So glad we have him...He is a good all-around back. Love him."
We do, too.
Stevenson smashed and dashed his way through the Lions every which way — skating around the edge, slithering through slivers of space that looked nonexistent from the press box, making people miss with his ridiculous footwork and bullying defenders with stiff arms and a shoulder made out of vibranium — in a performance that left me fumbling for the right words to describe in real time.
To put it simply, he runs like he feels the game on a different level.
He makes cuts and avoids defenders seemingly without even seeing them at times, even when he’s stumbling forward through the needle’s eye he just squeezed through. He creates blocks by making moves on defenders and then shifting back to his original position once one of his teammates swoops in to lead the way. And he does it all at around 230 pounds.
Add that in with his ability to make you feel him — the way he did to Alex Anzalone when the Lions linebacker thought he had a knockout blow only to end up on his back — and you have a running back poised to become one of the best players on the team given enough opportunities to prove it.
Stevenson has now gone for 100 or more yards three times as a pro, including once with Harris out of the lineup against the Cleveland Browns last season. His career yards-per-carry average currently sits at 4.9, including 5.5 yards per tote this year.
You think he’s ready to take over the lead back role?
Harris probably isn’t going anywhere this season, of course. He still has plenty to give the Patriots and is one of the team’s more vocal presences as well.
But don’t expect the Patriots to try too hard to keep him when his contract is up after 2022. Barring an injury, it’s going to be Rhamondre Stevenson SZN in Foxborough, and no one’s getting in the way of that.