Can Brandon Bolden Be the New Workhorse Back in New England?

After yet another injury to a key offensive component, the New England Patriots are again searching for a running back. Is Brandon Bolden the answer?

No matter how you choose to look at it -- a greater propensity to get hurt or just bad luck -- the New England Patriots have been absolutely decimated by injuries this season.

The list of key offensive contributors who have missed playing time -- Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, and now LeGarrette Blount -- is staggering. The fact that the Patriots are 11-2 and in prime position for the top seed in the AFC is a testament to the depth and resiliency of the team as a whole.

After Lewis tore his ACL and was lost for the season in Week 9, Blount was counted on to be the stabilizing force in the offensive backfield. Now with Blount out for the rest of the season after sustaining a hip injury, the burden shifts again.

Brandon Bolden now appears to be in position to assume the early-down-back role formerly occupied by Blount. James White will certainly figure into the equation to some extent, but is Bolden capable of handling a large workload for the rest of the season?

And more importantly for us, can we trust him on our fantasy football squads during the most crucial time of the entire season?

Who Is Brandon Bolden?

As a four-year veteran in New England, Bolden has by all accounts served any role necessary with minimal difficulty. He is a regular on special teams but has a relatively limited resume as a runner: 174 carries, 744 yards and 6 touchdowns in 50 career games.

He has the requisite size to be a between-the-tackles runner -- listed at 5’11” and 220 pounds -- but is nothing extraordinary when it comes to athleticism.

Here at numberFire, we use an advanced metric -- Net Expected Points (NEP) -- to show just how efficient a player is whether running, catching or throwing the football. As far as this metric is concerned, Bolden's performance has declined as a runner in each consecutive season since 2012.

Year Rushes Rush NEP Rush NEP/P Success% Rec Rec NEP Tar Rec NEP/T Catch Rate
2012 56 4.23 0.08 48.21% 2 0.23 2 0.11 100.00%
2013 55 0.64 0.01 47.27% 21 2.26 29 0.08 72.41%
2014 28 -1.09 -0.04 42.86% 2 -0.81 6 -0.13 33.33%
2015 35 -5.96 -0.17 28.57% 10 10.91 18 0.60 55.55%

Having a negative Rushing NEP is not that unusual, as it is much easier to gain large chunks of yardage through the passing game. But through the first 14 weeks of the 2015 season, Bolden ranks 17th in Rushing NEP per carry among the 27 running backs with 20 to 40 carries. For some perspective, his -0.17 Rushing NEP puts him in between Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham.

While his efficiency running the ball has clearly declined, he has had his best receiving season in 2015. Bolden currently sits ninth in Reception NEP per target among 52 running backs with 10 to 30 targets so far this season.

His two receiving touchdowns greatly boost his NEP metrics, but it’s still notable what he’s done catching the football in a limited role this season.

The only problem with Bolden’s passing-game proficiency is that James White, the only other healthy running back currently on the Patriots’ roster, has been even better. White ranks second in Reception NEP per target among 31 backs with 30 to 50 targets. White has actually surpassed Dion Lewis in this category and appears very well-suited for the role.

Opportunity By Necessity

Even though Bolden has been below-average efficiency-wise on the ground this season, he is the closest (and only healthy) thing to Blount they have on the roster -- unless New England signs another veteran running back. But can we trust the notoriously difficult to predict Patriots’ coaching staff for fantasy purposes?

Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick remained his usual cryptic-self when asked about Bolden’s role moving forward:

“It might vary from game to game. I’m not sure it’ll be the same every week, which it’s hard to find anybody’s role on our team that’s the same every week.”

Running back has been an absolute nuclear apocalypse this season, making Bolden a legitimate RB2/Flex option this week, even during the fantasy football playoffs. New England currently holds a monstrous 37.5-point implied team total against the Tennessee Titans, making Bolden an enticing way to get a piece of that action.

Despite having seen 10 or more carries in a game just four times in his entire career, Bolden may be forced into a prominent role for the rest of the season because of the rash of injuries, whether Belichick likes it or not.