Surprisingly, New England did not improve its situation at running back over the offseason. Laurence Maroney led the Patriots in rushing this past season, but his 3.9 yards per rush were underwhelming. Overall, his season was somewhat disappointing, and he failed to live up to his abilities. Still, Maroney has the most ability in the crowded New England backfield. He has strength, size, agility and a decent burst with the ball in his hands. He must run with more conviction and attack the line of scrimmage with more authority. His pass protection is a bit of a liability as well, which makes it difficult to count on him in throwing situations.
Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor and BenJarvus Green-Ellis all have had spurts of productivity in a Patriots uniform, and had better per-rush averages that Maroney behind the same offensive line. But Faulk is a specialty back who is 34 years old. He excels when there are extra wideouts on the field and is sure to resume that role in 2010. How much longer can this Patriots staple keep it up? Morris might be the most effective ball carrier of the group, but he has major durability concerns and is in his 11th season. Morris takes a lot of violent shots, but Maroney could learn a thing or two from him concerning getting downhill.
Taylor's best days are clearly behind him, but in a spot role, this 34-year-old can contribute to the offense. Still, putting too much on his shoulders seems unwise at this juncture. Green-Ellis has the most tread left on his tires, but he really has no discernible traits, has caught just two passes in the NFL and isn't a threat to break off a long run.
Again, that leaves Maroney as the back who should be getting the most carries. This is a critical time in Maroney's career. With a quality season, the Patriots might invest in him long term to be their primary back. He did show some flashes last season. However, reliability has never been a trait associated with this former first-round selection, and injuries have been an issue as well. And it should be noted that his overall explosiveness has waned since he entered the league and his fumbling was a problem down the stretch last season.
Maybe the Patriots can get away with riding the hot hand at this position, but I think consistency is what New England needs from Maroney. I have my doubts. With another mediocre campaign, the Pats will be looking another direction at running back next offseason. But again, that is what most of us thought this past offseason.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.