The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by David Dodds
Dion Lewis is not your traditional running back. He is only 5' 7 inches tall. He was drafted in the fifth round. Before last year, he has barely even seen the field. But on the New England Patriots, Dion Lewis is exactly the kind of back that gets HC Bill Belichick excited.
To understand Lewis' value, one needs to get in the mind of the head coach. Our own Matt Bitonti rates the Patriots as a bottom 5 offensive line. Add in a 39-year-old Hall of Fame quarterback (that has not thrown a deep accurate ball in years) and you need to structure your offense to be able to make a lot of quick strikes. Last year, Tom had 448 pass attempts less than 10 yards. The Patriots are successful with this formula because Tom Brady is excellent at reading defenses and New England has the best two-way TE in Rob Gronkowski (best pass-catcher and best-blocking TE). The Patriots are able to go no huddle for giant stretches of the game making it very difficult to defend their massive number of quick slant plays.
Let's get back to Dion Lewis. He is a hybrid running back. He is every bit a receiver as he is a running back. In the no-huddle attack, he is often the guy not covered. We saw that early last season as he combined for 10 receptions, 258 combined yards and a TD in his first two contests. He has rehabbed well from a torn ACL last season and all indications are that Dion Lewis is ready to be the back we saw briefly last season. At RB17, he offers good upside on a strong offense.
Low Side by Stephen Holloway
Dion Lewis is only seven months removed from his torn ACL that happened in Week 9 of last season and might not be ready to play at the beginning of the season. Lewis' first season in New England was a resounding success as he averaged 4.8 yards per carry and totaled 36 receptions in only seven games. However, it was an injury shortened year and prior to last year's success he had managed only 36 rushes for 171 yards and made three catches for another 21 yards in his NFL career.
Even though he was drafted by Philadelphia in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Lewis has only played in parts of three seasons, totaling 30 games. His limited stats were with the Eagles and then he was traded to Cleveland prior to the 2013 season. He suffered a fractured fibula in the pre-season and missed all of 2013. He also missed all of the 2014 season, being cut by the Browns in pre-season and later being released by Indianapolis. He finally signed with the Patriots in December of 2014, but did not take the field until last year.
Lewis' limited past success does not foretell of sustained success for 2016. The Patriots are not known for using a bell-cow and have LeGarrette Blount, James White, Brandon Bolden, and even Donald Brown as depth behind Dion Lewis at running back. Blount should have a role in the running game as he had the most games (six) with more than 15 carries last year and returns. James White had catches a year ago and scored four receiving touchdowns to Dion Lewis' two. A running back by committee plan seems to be the realistic expectation for the Patriots and should limit Dion Lewis this year.