After barely seeing the field as a rookie in 2019, Damien Harris was lined up for a bigger role in the Patriots’ backfield last year. Exactly what that would mean, as New England employs a committee to frustrate fantasy managers, was unclear. Then Harris missed the first three games with a finger injury.
Harris made his season debut in Week 4 against the Kansas City Chiefs. And he promptly had his first career 100-yard game (on 17 carries). From Week 7-Week 14, he had double-digit carries in every game with more than 50 rushing yards or a touchdown in seven of eight games. Over that stretch, he was RB14 in standard scoring.
Harris did not play after Week 14, missing the final three games with an ankle injury. So he went in the books with 691 yards on 137 carries (5.0 yards per carry), with two touchdowns on the ground, three 100-yard games and five catches for 52 yards.
In free agency, the Patriots re-signed James White and lost Rex Burkhead. Sony Michel seems to be on tenuous ground to keep his roster spot, and they used a fourth-round pick on Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson. So Harris still has competition for touches.
Mid-July optimism has to be taken with a grain of salt. But, per ESPN’s Mike Reiss, Bill Belichick has been complementary of Harris.
“Damien works extremely hard at all phases — certainly his conditioning and training, running game, passing game, protection, route running, catching the ball,” Belichick said at the conclusion of June’s mandatory minicamp. “He’s got a lot of skill and he can contribute in a variety of ways, and he’s looking to upgrade where he is in every area.”
During his final season at Alabama in 2018, Harris averaged 9.3 yards per catch. So he has something to offer in the passing game. But the pass-catching role in the Patriots’ backfield is White’s, and he has had more catches than carries in each of the last two seasons.
So Harris can surely make some headway in the touchdown column, right? Cam Newton is back on a one-year deal this year, after banking 12 rushing touchdowns last year. He also, per Athlon Sports’ fantasy guide, had 19 of the Patriots’ 26 carries inside the 5-yard line in 2020. Harris had three of the remaining seven, with one touchdown on 22 red zone carries overall. Those who are optimistic about Harris in fantasy this year are naturally hoping rookie Mac Jones wins the starting job in training camp, or takes over under center for Newton in short order. Newton is a high-end touchdown vulture for the Patriots’ running backs.
Damien Harris 2021 Fantasy Outlook
Let’s look at Harris’ ADP, via Fantasy Football Calculator (as of the morning of June 14, 12-team leagues).
Full PPR: RB31 (pick 6.08)
Standard: RB32 (pick 6.12)
Half-PPR: RB32 (pick 6.10)
Harris is well ahead of White in ADP across the board, as the highest-drafted New England running back. But he’s also right where he should be in ADP-a RB3. That said, there’s upside in that draft position if Harris can seize the early down role for the whole season. Starting anyone in the Patriots’ running back rotation on a weekly basis in fantasy takes some blind faith. But as long as he’s healthy, Harris combines a double-digit carry per week floor with the potential to finish as a RB1 in the right matchups.
Damien Harris 2021 Projection: 185 carries for 840 yards, 5 TD; 12 receptions for 74 yards