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Dion Lewis' high snap count clarifies Patriots' picture at RB

Patriots running back Dion Lewis played 46 of 61 snaps in Thursday night's win against the Steelers. Stew Milne/Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Fantasy football owners generally know that New England Patriots running backs can be a shaky investment because of the way coach Bill Belichick often rotates them and alters the game plan on a week-by-week basis. But Thursday night's season-opening 28-21 win against the Steelers at least provided some clarity as to how the coaching staff views part of the depth chart.

Dion Lewis, who hadn't played in a regular-season game since 2012, is now the clear-cut top option to fill the void created by Shane Vereen's free-agent departure. Vereen played 52.9 percent of the offensive snaps last season as the team's top "pass-catching" back, which is a high total that reflects how the Patriots regularly spread the field and rely on their backs as pass-catchers and in blitz pickup.

That was the plan in Thursday's opener, as Lewis played 46 of 61 snaps. Brandon Bolden was sprinkled in at times (14), while James White played one snap, the kneel-down right before the half.

The Patriots could alter their game plan Sept. 20 against the Bills and favor more of a power running approach; if so, Lewis likely wouldn't see as much playing time. That would be LeGarrette Blount, who is coming off suspension.

Yet what Thursday night decisively revealed was that when the Patriots want to spread it out and feature the passing game, Lewis is the top option.

RUNNING BACK

Lewis -- 46 of 61

Bolden -- 14 of 61

White -- 1 of 61

QUARTERBACK

Tom Brady -- 61 of 61

TIGHT END

Rob Gronkowski -- 61 of 61

Scott Chandler -- 25 of 61

Michael Williams -- 18 of 61

Michael Hoomanawanui -- 13 of 61

WIDE RECEIVER

Julian Edelman -- 48 of 61

Danny Amendola -- 34 of 61

Aaron Dobson -- 30 of 61

Chris Harper -- 12 of 61

OFFENSIVE LINE

C David Andrews -- 61 of 61

LT Nate Solder -- 57 of 61

G Josh Kline -- 54 of 61

RT Sebastian Vollmer -- 52 of 61

G Shaq Mason -- 36 of 61

G Tre' Jackson -- 35 of 61

OT Marcus Cannon -- 13 of 61