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Last season, no running back received the football more often inside the red zone than New England’s LeGarrette Blount, who saw 68 such attempts — 15 more than the next-highest back on the list. He converted those attempts into 16 touchdowns, and added another two to total 18 on the season, the most in the NFL.
Blount left the Pats in the offseason, signing a one-year deal to join the Eagles, and New England needed a new running back to complete its red zone unit. Enter Mike Gillislee. The former fifth-round pick out of Florida and fifth-year veteran has three touchdowns in the season opener against the Chiefs — and that’s in just the first three quarters of action. On a night when Tom Brady hasn’t looked much like himself, Gillislee has been the reliable red zone workhorse, keeping the Pats in the game as the Chiefs have put up a greater challenge than many expected. (Great things happen when Alex Smith throws deep!)
If you have Gillislee on your fantasy team: congratulations. If you have him and didn’t start him: lol.
Gillislee scored the first touchdown of the NFL season from a tight goal-line set, flying through the middle of the offensive line toward the end zone.
And we've got our first TD of the NFL season! Mike Gillislee (@mikescogilly) plunges in for the short score for the Patriots! #GoPats pic.twitter.com/zVrGftufvt— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) September 8, 2017
The second came in a similar set (you’ll notice a theme here), though Gillislee had to work for this one. He barrels into Chiefs linebacker Ramik Wilson, but the 5-foot-11, 208-pound back just overpowers the defender and falls across the goal line.
Le second touchdown de la soirée pour Mike Gillislee #GoPats pic.twitter.com/Sd9aQxnCHD— Parlons NFL (@Parlons_NFL) September 8, 2017
On the third touchdown, with the Pats down four, Gillislee and the Pats offensive line once again overwhelmed the Chiefs, putting New England back on top.
An impressive #Patriots debut for @mikescogilly. #KCvsNE pic.twitter.com/cByIOFyxNm— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 8, 2017
Gillislee wasn’t supposed to be a Patriot this year. He was drafted by Miami in 2013, but found a home in Buffalo the last two seasons. His second year in Buffalo was an efficient one — he averaged a league-high 5.7 yards per carry on 101 total attempts, and had the highest DVOA by any back by far. But the Bills tendered Gillislee for only $1.8 million in the offseason, meaning the Pats could snag him and Buffalo would be compensated only a fifth-round pick. Had Buffalo offered another $900,000 or so, New England would have had to give up a second-round pick to sign him — a price that would likely have been too steep for Bill Belichick.
New England is notorious for rotating running backs, and it’s always possible that Gillislee will see just a handful of carries next week if Belichick chooses to rest him. But for now, the Patriots appear to have a reliable back to use near the end zone.