This is a series that I put out each Wednesday until the the one and only roster cut this year, on Sunday September 3rd at 4pm. It attempts to highlight a player that I think may have some trouble making the 53-man roster.
The last few roster spots are always about making a decision between carrying a veteran that provides important depth right now vs keeping a young player with high upside that will be useful in the future. Usually I'm a now guy. I can eat this cake and hate myself later, or I can skip the sweets because nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. Easy decision, grab me a fork. DJ Foster is the passing back of the future...if we can keep him.
It's very telling that Foster was carried on the 53-man roster last year as an undrafted free agent out of Arizona State. He features rare quickness and soft hands. He's a threat catching balls out of the backfield or even lining up in the slot. To me, he looks like Danny Woodhead 2.0.
The only problem is the Patriots are stacked at running back. New additions Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead are going to gobble up most of the snaps. James White is the established passing back, while Dion 'Didi' Lewis and Brandon Bolden offer unique skill sets of their own.
Let's look at the perks of keeping him. The kid can flat out play. Granted this is always against scrubs, but he was one of the stars in the preseason last season (despite suffering an injury in camp which slowed him down) and he has been one of the statistical leaders this year too. On the receiving side of things, he already has 7 catches for 85 yards and a tuddy. For those of you keep score at home, that LEADS THE TEAM. Everyone and their motha wont stop talking about Austin Carr. I'm guilty of it too, I love the kid. Ive been thinking about him far too often right before I fall asleep at night during my "JO" time...errr my Johnny O time. He has 8 catches for 75 yards and a tuddy. So Foster is right there with him if not better. And that's with Carr playing 129 snaps compared to Foster playing only 55 snaps.
At Arizona State, Foster played running back his first three seasons. His junior year he was a BEAST. He had 1081 yards on the ground at 5.6 yards per attempt with 9 tuddies. He added 62 catches for 688 yards and 3 tuddies. Then, naturally, his senior year he did what all prolific running backs do and he moved full time to Wide Receiver. He still ran it 55 times that year for 280 yards, good for 5.1 yards a clip and a tuddy. He caught 59 balls for 584 and 3 tuddies as a wide out. Even though he caught less passes he honed a skill that will be invaluable in his NFL career. He knows how to split wide and beat corner backs. He can play the slot. He can run a route tree. He can catch the tough passes that aren't check downs. In his pre draft analysis scouts were saying that all it would take for him to be a star is for a team to use him the right way. They even site the way the Pats were using Dion Lewis during his first year in New England. It's no surprise Foster ended up where he did.
What are the knocks on him? He's small and was injured a bit last year. Well, he played four seasons at ASU and missed a whopping ZERO games. What else? He puts on the ball on the ground? He did fumble in the first preseason game this year, and in the preseason last year. He didn't have any regular season fumbles in 2016, but I can hardly count that considering he played in 3 games and only had 7 rushes and 1 catch. You best not be fumbling my football if that's all your doing. At ASU Foster lost 1 fumble in his career. That's the number after 0 and before 2. That's in 666 attempts rushing and receiving combined. (Coincidence that Foster didn't catch one more pass and ASU is called the Sun Devils? I think not) He put it on the ground only 4 times total. Once as a true freshman. Three times as a junior when he had a career high in touches. And most importantly, zero times as senior when he was playing WR.
Foster is never going to be a between the tackles running back for us. But if he can be the third down guy, torching cover linebackers and catching everything while taking care of the rock, then I don't see anyone better suited for it than him.
The big issue is space. In 2014 the Pats carried 5 running backs. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, a rookie by the name of James White, Brandon Bolden, and James Develin. In 2015 we carried only 4, with a caveat. Bolden, White, Didi, and Travaris Cadet. Jonas Gray was the surprise cut in camp. And we were getting LeGarrette Blount back in week 2 from a suspension so he didn't initially count against the 53 man roster. So we essentially kept 5 again. In 2016, you guessed it, 5 backs. Blount, White, Bolden, Develin, and MY MAN DJ FOSTER.
This year the locks are Gillislee, Burkhead, and White. I don't see a world where Didi doesn't make the team with the way he's playing. And we know how much Josh McDaniels loves fullbacks so I'd frankly be shocked if Develin doesn't have a job in New England come September 4th. Thats 5 right there! Megan just did a great piece on how much Bill Belichick respects Bolden and all the special qualities he brings to the team. And then you've got DJ. There are 7 backs worthy of a spot on an NFL roster. There's no planet we keep all. We could keep 6 and even that's a stretch. And for those of you that think we can cut DJ Foster, he will clear waivers, and then we can land him on the practice squad...I'm sure you and Kyrie Irving are going to have a blast in Boston this year talking about how flat the earth is because you are idiot fools.
If we are able to keep Foster, it's certainly with the future in mind. The James White extension is a little damning, because I expected Foster to red shirt again this year and step in when we lost White to free agency. Who knows what Bill has up his cut off sleeve. I'm hoping very much that it includes DJ Foster.