by Ray Kuhn
Jonas Gray had his best game of the 2014 season while he was on either your league’s waiver wire or someone’s bench. There really is nowhere for Gray to go but down here. But is there anything wrong with that? And what does it mean for his value?
In just his fourth NFL game, Gray had a historical performance on Sunday night against the Colts. Regardless of how high you were on the rookie, you can never predict 201 yards on 38 carries and four touchdowns for any player. That is just impossible. You could argue that there were some signs pointing towards a big day for Gray, but certainly not of this magnitude.
So what can expect moving forward for the player who was likely the top player targeted during your leagues waiver process?
As I touched on above, it didn’t take me 100% by surprise that Gray had a big game against the Colts. In the second half of last season and into the playoffs, Bill Belichick leaned on big backs Stevan Ridley and Legarette Blount to control the tempo of the game. Both had success, and it appeared Ridley was on the way for more of the same prior to his knee injury. That left Gray as pretty much the only true option to replace that production; Branden Bolden is more of a special teams ace and didn’t do anything to grab on to the opportunity, and Shane Vereen is more of a passing game target.
After last week’s game, the Colts’ run defense is ranked 17th in the NFL even after taking into account Gray’s 201 yards. So with that being said, you cannot chalk up Gray’s success solely to a poor defense. There really is not much of a body of work to go, just 70 career carries, but the rookie running back has himself in a good situation. A running back does not just get 38 carries in a game on accident. Emphasizing the run game was clearly a priority of the Patriots, and it was an element of their offense that had been missing with the absence of Ridley. Also having one of the best quarterbacks in Tom Brady helps in opening up running lanes for Gray.
Three weeks ago, Gray carried the ball 15 times in New England’s trouncing of the Bears gaining 86 yards and showing that he could move the chains. Any optimism gained from that effort was quickly minimized as Gray gained just 33 yards on 12 carries (including a long run of 13 yards), as the Patriots defeated Denver. Then came the bye week which helped give Gray two weeks of practice time and preparation.
My takeaway here, is that the Patriots’ backfield belongs to Gray. Vereen only had one carry against the Colts as Belichick was clearly willing to role with his rookie. Of course, there is always the chance of fumbles, which could possible relegate Gray to the bench, but so far this season that has not been an issue. We know the Patriots are going to move the ball and opposing defenses must respect Brady, so there will be chances, especially in the red zone, for Gray to do some damage.
In short, what is there not to like?
Quite honestly, not much, aside from the inexperience and track record. But when it comes to running backs, that is something we have to through out the window, especially this season. All that matters is opportunity, talent, and production. Right now, that is working in Gray’s favor.
But then why was he not my number one target at running back this week?
That is because I took a look at New England’s schedule. This week Gray gets to take on the Lions and their 1st ranked defense against the run. Detroit allows 68.5 yards rushing per game, and it is unlikely Gray will have much room to run. The only thing that could save him, is the potential for goaline carries. Gray then gets to face Green Bay, San Diego, and Miami. So while his schedule does get easier, it will still be some tough treading. And in Week 16, Gray faces off against the Jets and their strong run defense.
While Gray does have the potential to be a low end RB1/high end RB2, his schedule makes him into a low end RB2. The other issue regarding Gray, is the newly released LeGarrette Blount. All signs point to Blount reuniting with Belichick in New England which would cut into Gray’s value. Moving forward, I would think long and hard about using him. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be owned.