FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It has been rough sledding for the Patriots at the NFL Draft in recent years, but the 2021 class is poised to be one of the best that have come through New England in quite some time. One of those second-year players that is looking to build off a promising rookie campaign is running back Rhamondre Stevenson. The fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma’s introduction to camp last year wasn’t particularly smooth as he arrived out of shape, but after what he dubbed his rookie year to be a “trial run” he’s hit the ground running to begin his sophomore season on a better note.
“I didn’t really come in in the best shape,” Stevenson told reporters Thursday following Day 2 of Patriots training camp. “I knew what I had to do, and I just took those steps to get where I needed to be.”
Those steps have led to Stevenson coming into camp noticeably leaner. He said he’s dropped about seven pounds overall and is carrying “better weight.” The 24-year-old said he checked in to camp this year weighing 225 pounds.
“I feel I can run a lot more,” he said. “I just feel better overall. I can’t really describe it. I just feel better.”
When you consider Stevenson’s starting point and how he produced throughout the 2021 season, the mind does wonder when thinking about his potential ceiling going forward with a better foundation.
While Damien Harris may still have a grip on the early down work, one role that may be up for grabs is being the go-to pass-catcher out of the backfield. With James White (hip) on PUP after missing the bulk of last season and rookie Pierre Strong Jr. limited through the first couple of days of camp, there is an opportunity for someone on the roster to showcase their ability in that role. Through two non-padded practices, Stevenson has flashed promise. This has also been an area of emphasis for the second-year back throughout the offseason.
“I feel a lot more comfortable and confident running routes and catching passes out of the backfield,” said Stevenson.
In terms of where he believes he’s improved the most as a pass catcher, Stevenson said: “I would just say understanding the third down concepts, blitz pickup, and just the overall thing. Just running routes, catching the ball, pass protection. Just learning the whole third down system.”
Last season, Stevenson caught 14 of his 18 targets for 123 yards. With White out, it was Brandon Bolden who was the team’s most targeted back (49 targets), but he is now in Las Vegas with Josh McDaniels and the Raiders. If White’s rehab slows his return, that paves a route for Stevenson to possibly see the lion’s share of targets from Mac Jones.
“I’m just going to get ready for whatever I need to do and it’s the coach’s decision, really,” Stevenson said when asked if he’d embrace the third-down back role.
In 2021, Patriots running backs/fullbacks were targeted 111 times.