Sony Michel adds exciting layer to Patriots' RB corps

In the lead-up to New England Patriots training camp, with the first public practice scheduled for Thursday, July 26, it is timely to review each position on the roster with our annual "roster locks" series. Leading things off with the running backs.

Locks: Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, James White

On the bubble: Brandon Bolden, Mike Gillislee, Jeremy Hill

Long shot: Ralph Webb

Explaining the locks: Burkhead isn't going anywhere after signing a three-year, $9.75 million contract as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. He has a good chance to enter the season as the team's No. 1 option from a traditional running-back perspective, with his versatility as a pass-catcher adding to his value and opening up more options for coordinator Josh McDaniels. Meanwhile, Michel was selected with the No. 31 overall pick (first round); he fits a similar profile from a versatility perspective. And White is the steady, reliable "passing back" who could be a consideration for his first crack as a team captain.

Stat of note: White played 33.7 percent of the offensive snaps in 2017, and was at 38 percent in 2016 and 25.9 percent in 2015. That reflects how the Patriots prioritize the "passing back" in their offense.

Roster management: The Patriots will likely keep four or five running backs on the final 53-man roster. A fifth running back would be someone who contributes mostly on special teams, which would be good news for Bolden. So if everyone is healthy, that could leave Gillislee, Hill and Webb fighting for the final spot for a pure running back. Gillislee entered last year's training camp as the No. 1 option but was passed by Dion Lewis in Week 6 and never got the job back. So he's looking for a bounce-back type of season, while Hill was a bargain free-agent signing ($150,000 signing bonus on a one-year deal) who falls into the low-risk, high-reward category in that he was a 2014 second-round pick of the Bengals who has tailed off the past two seasons. Perhaps he can return to form and give the Patriots a more traditional power option. And finally, Webb received a hefty financial guarantee ($70,000) as an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt and shouldn't be overlooked even though he falls into the "long shot" category at this time.

One thing to watch for in camp: On Saturday, July 28, the Patriots are expected to be in full pads for the first time. How running backs pick up the blitz in the traditional "backs vs. 'backers" drill will provide an initial glimpse at Michel's chances of making an early impact, because the Patriots have traditionally been reluctant to put a rookie running back on the field if he struggles in pass protection.

Fantasy impact: The Patriots traditionally rotate their running backs, which experienced fantasy football owners have long realized puts them in the "buyer beware" category. One has to go back to 2004 -- when Corey Dillon was rumbling to a franchise single-season-record, 1,635-yard campaign -- for a time when the Patriots had a situation in which they relied mostly on one player at the position. Sometimes an injury has helped clarify things in certain seasons, but based on the present snapshot, this looks like a strong committee-type situation.