The New England Patriots have a long and storied history in both the AFL and NFL. One given for the Patriots has been a tradition of having a strong running game. More often than not, the New England Patriots have sported a high-quality home-grown running back. That is part of what makes it so very difficult to determine who was the best historical draft pick at running back in New England Patriots history.
There are a number of running backs who jump out in the memory of fans but just miss the cut. In the 1980s the Patriots rode the duo of Tony Collins and Craig James. Cult favorite Mosi Tatupu was a goal-line battering ram during that time as well. First-round bust Reggie Dupard stands as a “could have been” from that time and possibly one of the most disappointing draft picks in an era of poor drafting.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s the Patriots had the trio of first round draft picks at running back in John Stephens, Leonard Russell, and later Robert Edwards. All three had periods of great seasons, but none of the three were able to maintain the consistency found in great running backs. Edwards, after a great rookie season, blew out his knee at a silly Pro Bowl beach football game and ruined a promising career.
In the early days of the AFL in 1961, the Patriots drafted running back Tommy Mason in the first round, but lost out when he was chosen as the top pick of the NFL draft and chose to go to the Minnesota Vikings. Carl Garrett had a strong start to his career in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, but failed to maintain success. More recently, the Patriots have had young running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen contributing to the team’s success.
Going back to the early days, Patriots running back Jim Nance set the standard for the team. Selected in the 19th round (#151 overall-around the end of the fifth round today) in 1965, Nance was the embodiment of a “big bruising back.” He led the team in rushing for six season and in 1966 rushed for 11 touchdowns, over 1,400 yards, and was the AFC Player of the Year (MVP). He finished his career in New England with 45 rushing touchdowns and 5,323 yards rushing.
The team rushing record for yards still belongs to the Patriots star running back of the 1970s: Sam “Bam” Cunningham. CLICK HERE FOR MUCH MORE: http://cover32.com/patriots/2014/02/12/a-history-of-new-englands-strong-running-back-legacy/