To say he was overlooked heading into the season would be disrespecting Dion Lewis the player. However, after the departure of LeGarrette Blount, the Patriots moved to sign Mike Gillislee to an offer sheet. The Buffalo Bills declined and Gillislee became a member of the Patriots. Most assumed he came to New England as the Blount replacement.
That hasn’t quite played out that way. Gillislee hasn’t seen the field since a Week 8 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. He has been a healthy scratch for the last several weeks. In his absence, Rex Burkhead and most notably, Dion Lewis, have carried the load. In fact, Lewis, once a no-name future contract signee of the Patriots, has become the lead back for the World Champions.
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So far, in 2017, Lewis has set career highs in just about every rushing category. He has carried the ball 117 times for 607 yards. His previous career highs were 64 carries and 243 yards in 2016. In a stretch that began in Week 6 with the Jets and ended prior to the loss to Miami, Lewis averaged 13 carries and 70 yards a game. With it, he held robust 5.28 yards per attempt average. With that said, the biggest difference for Lewis is that he is healthy.
In the league since 2011, Lewis has been slowed considerably by injuries. After appearing in 24 games his first two seasons in Philadelphia, Lewis missed both the 2013 and 2014 season due to injury. He was an afterthought until he signed with the Patriots late in the 2014 season. However, injuries followed him to New England. After an electric start for the Patriots in 2015, Lewis tore his ACL and was lost for the season. In fact, Lewis would not return until late in the 2016 season. Just in time for a Super Bowl run.
During those first two seasons with the Patriots, Lewis appeared in just 14 games. On Sunday, it will be Lewis’ 14th game of the season. A stark contrast from year’s past.
Lewis’ worth for the Patriots is quite evident. The Patriots are 24-3 in the regular season when Lewis is in the lineup. 27-3 if you include the playoffs. Against the Texans last year in the divisional round, Lewis scored three times as he helped propel the Patriots into the AFC Championship Game. His strong finish has carried over in 2017.
“He’s got a little bit of Ray Rice in him,” said Steelers’ defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. “He may be small in stature but plays very big in his role. He’s able to fall forward as a running back, and that’s always good, and he’s able to catch out of the backfield too. Lewis has become a good target for Brady. He’s an every-down back, and he’s showing it.”
It’s true. The Patriots are using him more as a lead back as opposed to a change-of-pace back he was in the past. Injuries didn’t help Lewis in his pursuit of a bigger role. Nor did being in the shadow of Blount. Now, for such a small stature, Lewis casts the biggest shadow.
“I definitely don’t feel small when I’m on the field,” said Lewis this week. “I feel big when I’m out there. That’s just the way I’ve always been. I’ve always been the smallest guy on the field, I’m used to it, but when I’m on the field I don’t feel small at all.”