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Patriot Games: LeGarrette Blount Edition

In this article I’m going to take a deep dive into whether or not “Blount Games” are predictable and also determine if Blount will return his 2016 ADP value in a bestball format.

Historical Production

LeGarrette Blount has played in 33 regular season games in a Patriots uniform. His best statistical game was Week 17 of 2013: 24 carries, 189 yards, and 2 TDs. New England had already clinched the division and played starters Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen approximately 25-percent of the offensive snaps each.

Blount’s best two games as a Patriot, stats wise, were both island games, in the playoffs, versus the Indianapolis Colts. When people think of “Blount Games” they are likely thinking of these two performances. In three career games versus Indy, he has 70 rushes for 407 yards (5.8 YPC) and 8 TDs. Unfortunately for Blount, New England will NOT play the Colts in 2016.

For fantasy relevancy, I took a look at all of Blount’s Patriot games in between Week 1 – 16 from 2013 through 2015. He’s played 31 games and amassed 344 carries 1505 yards and 14 TDs which averages out to roughly 11 rushes 50 yards and 0.5 TD per game. On the surface, that appears to be pretty good for the 48th RB in 2016 MFL10 drafts.

As a Patriot, Blount has been (potentially) startable in exactly 10 weeks over the past three seasons; Five RB1 weekly finishes,  two RB2 weeks and three RB3 (possible) flex level production weeks. Of his 14 TDs, 13 of them were scored during his usable weeks.

Week to Week Predictability

Is it possible to figure out the week to start him in a typical redraft league?

Brian Malone pointed out that Blount’s 2015 stats looked the best when the Patriots won by more than 10 points. By my count, Blount was startable four weeks in 2015. In two of those weeks, the Patriots won by seven points (34-27 at Indy) and one point (27-26 at NYG).

So while final score is prescriptive, how predictable is the final score of an NFL game? Can we use the Vegas spreads to predict 2016 “Blount Games”?

At least in 2015, the Vegas line seemed to be somewhat predictive. Of the 12 games Blount played in, the Patriots were favored by at least 7 points in nine of them. His best statistical output of 2015 came against the Jaguars where New England was favored by 13.5 points. Even so, it may not have truly been predictive. Blount had just two touches going into halftime with the score 20-3. Bill Belichick decided to sit Dion Lewis in the 2nd half and Blount racked up 16 carries, 53 yards and 3 TDs after intermission. Unsurprisingly, his second best game of 2015 was versus the Colts (-9).

His other two fantasy viable games came versus Washington (-14) and at the Giants (-7.5). The Washington game is when Lewis tore his ACL in the middle of the first quarter and the Giants game was the week before Blount succumbed to a hip injury himself.

In 2014, Blount was added off waivers from the Steelers after Ridley was lost for the season with a torn ACL and Jonas Gray couldn’t figure out how to set an alarm clock. We can’t effectively take anything away from the spreads/carry correlation because he was the last man standing.

In 2013, Blount’s two best games actually came versus the Falcons and Ravens when the Patriots were two point underdogs.

These are all of the “Blount Games” from the last three seasons:

Year Opponent Final Score Spread Rush Att Rush Yds TD Tgt Rec Rec Yds Rec TD PPR Fpts
2013 at ATL W 30-23 2 9 64 1 0 0 0 0 12.4
2013 PIT W 55-31 -6.5 5 47 1 0 0 0 0 10.7
2013 at BAL W 41-7 2 16 76 2 0 0 0 0 19.6
2014 DET W 34-9 -7 12 78 2 0 0 0 0 19.8
2014 at SDG W 23-14 -3.5 20 66 0 2 2 11 0 9.7
2014 MIA W 41-13 -7.5 8 17 1 2 2 7 0 10.4
2015 JAX W 51-17 -13.5 18 78 3 1 1 14 0 28.2
2015 at IND W 34-27 -9 16 93 1 1 1 11 1 23.4
2015 WAS W 27-10 -14 29 129 1 0 0 0 0 18.9
2015 at NYG W 27-26 -7.5 19 66 1 2 2 11 0 15.7

Based on his history with the Patriots, I’m not sure that the game spread is a viable predictor of heavy usage.

2016 Schedule

I took a look at this season’s opponents and, when available, saw how Blount fared versus those teams. I also charted how he and the team approached the game to see if I could find a pattern.

Blount hasn’t faced the NFC West as a member of the Patriots during the regular season. He did have 14 carries for 40 yards in the Super Bowl versus the Seahawks. If you can take anything from their approach in 2012 and SB XLIX, they will attack Seattle via the air. Tom Brady had had 50+ pass attempts in both games and New England attempted fewer than 20 rushes both times.

2016 Patriots Schedule

I have a few observations from the chart:

  • Don’t attempt to start Blount versus the Jets. In three games as a Patriot he has 8 rushes for 12 yards and zero touchdowns. TOTAL.
  • The 2013 game versus Buffalo is the aforementioned Week 17 game. The other games point out that Belichick prefers to attack the Bills (and Rex Ryan defenses) via the air, especially in Buffalo.
  • New England faces some of 2015’s toughest run defenses in 2016 (eeeek that second half schedule). It’s just a small sample here but I have found that there aren’t typically drastic changes YoY in run defense rankings.

I’ll touch on the first four games in a second. But if you believe in historical trends and coaching tendencies. There are two games you could potentially think about starting Blount.

  • Week 5 at Cleveland (2015’s 26th ranked rush defense). The Browns pass defense (28th in 2015)may be just as exploitable in Brady’s first game back from suspension.
  • In Week 6, they face Cincinnati who has had an average rush defense and an elite pass defense. Blount did receive 12 of 18 carries in the 2013 loss to the Bengals.

Tom Brady’s Suspension

One thing that may throw a wrench into fading LeGarrette Blount in 2016 is the four game suspension of Tom Brady. Logically, we might expect the coaching staff to try and hide Jimmy Garoppolo in his first four career NFL starts. Only one other time have the Patriots gone without Brady under center since 2001. Here are the run/pass splits from Matt Cassel’s first four career starts back in 2008.

Week Opponent Pass Atts Rush Atts % Pass Leading Rusher Rush Share
Week 2 at NYJ (W) 23 31 43% LaMont Jordan 35%
Week 3 Miami (L) 35 17 67% Sammy Morris 53%
Week 5 at SF (W) 32 38 46% Sammy Morris 42%
Week 6 at SD (L) 38 19 67% Sammy Morris 53%

I’d say they were fairly balanced but didn’t alter their plan that much. The offense was basically the same pieces as the 2007 juggernaut when they attempted 36 passes per game. It’s likely that going into September they will have their full complement of running backs. So even if they do lean a little more towards the run than usual, it’s not likely one back that will dominate touches. Even less likely will it be a one-dimensional back like LeGarrette Blount.

Odd Man Out?

The 2016 roster is full of different, but similar, running back options for the Patriots. In addition to Dion Lewis, the Patriots have added UDFA receiving back D.J. Foster, who Eric Braun found compared very similarly to Lewis. They signed the versatile veteran Donald Brown in free agency. Third year back James White was miserable rushing the ball in 2015 but excels in the pass game. The steady, but unspectacular, Brandon Bolden mostly plays special teams. However, cutting Bolden would save the most salary cap space of the RB group. The Patriots also have Stanford standout Tyler Gaffney who has been stashed on IR the past two seasons.

If you count fullback James Develin, it’s very likely that at least two (if not three) of these running backs will not make the final 53-man roster. With the least guaranteed money owed to him, Blount is certainly not a lock for the roster. We might be drafting the wrong running back simply thinking that Blount is a shoo-in for a couple multi-touchdown games that may never come.

Conclusion

New England seems perfectly content matriculating the ball down the field via the pass. This is accomplished by exploiting the matchups with five extremely versatile players at all of the skill positions. Blount appears to be an odd duck considering the skill sets of the other RBs on the roster and the apparent offensive philosophy. At 30 years old, with a bum hip and very little invested in him, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him sent packing in favor of Brown and the other younger RBs. Even after all this digging, I think a majority of the big games he’s had over the years were in mop up duty and not necessarily predictive for the reasons that many people believe.

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