Rex Burkhead: The Best Value in the Patriots Backfield

by Hunter Gibbon ·

There are few feelings worse than being dumped by a significant other for someone younger, someone more exciting, or someone that makes more money than you. That feeling is especially painful when the breakup occurs within the first few months of a relationship. One week it’s movie nights and cuddling, the next it’s you alone on the couch binge-watching The Office for the 10th time. If you have ever been in those shoes, Rex Burkhead understands your pain. Burkhead was slated to be the New England Patriots RB for all of 6 weeks before Mike Gillislee arrived. Now, all the fantasy community can write or talk about is Gillislee’s breakout potential as Tom Brady‘s goal-line sidekick. Burkhead has been forgotten altogether, despite his impressive profile. At his current ADP, Burkhead is not only the best value in the Patriots backfield, he is also talented enough to win the job outright.

The Rex Burkhead Story

April 27, 2013: Former Nebraska Cornhusker Rex Burkhead is drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 22nd pick in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

January 4, 2015: Burkhead starts at WR in a Wild Card playoff loss to the Colts. Yes, you read that correctly, he started at WR.

September 13, 2015 – January 1, 2017: Burkhead, who is #goodatfootball, earns an active roster spot in all 16 games of the 2015 and 2016 NFL seasons.

January 1, 2017: Burkhead rushes 27 times for 119 yards and 2 TDs against the Baltimore Ravens, who ranked No. 5 overall in Football Outsiders rush defense DVOA. DFS owners rejoice.

March 14, 2017: Burkhead signs with New England on a 1 year, 3.15 million dollar deal, making him the highest paid Patriots RB since 2010. Rex Burkhead rejoices.

March 15, 2017 – April 18, 2017: Burkhead becomes a beloved MFL10 sleeper. His ADP rises into the 11th round.

April 18, 2017: Mike Gillislee signs a two-year 6.4 million offer sheet with the New England Patriots. The Bills receive countless emails, texts, and Twitter DMs from a mystery man named Bex Rurkhead pleading with them to match the offer.

April 24, 2017: The Buffalo Bills declined to match New England’s offer sheet and Gillislee officially becomes a Patriot. Rex Burkhead and his MFL10 owners collectively mourn their loss.

July 11, 2017: Gillislee’s ADP rises all the way to 6.04, while Burkhead’s plummets to 14.02. Savvy fantasy owners recognize a superb Burkhead buying opportunity.

Rex Burkhead Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Mike Gillislee’s is the fantasy community’s chosen one in terms of replacing LeGarrette Blount for the valuable between-the-tackles role in the Patriots offense. The confidence in Gillislee’s 2017 role is demonstrated by his RB29 (6.05) ADP, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. James White, locked into the NE pass-catching role after his Super Bowl performance, is coming off the board next as the RB44 (9.12). 2015’s league leader in Juke Rate and early season fantasy darling Dion Lewis is third of the board as the RB55 (13.06). Finally, all the way at RB61 (14.02) is poor Rex Burkhead. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that White and Lewis will compete for the passing-down role. That leaves Gillislee and Burkhead going head-to-head for the coveted early-down and red-zone work. Once their respective profiles are laid out on the table it will be clear that Burkhead is the best value in the Patriots backfield.College Profiles

Even though neither player has had more than 200 touches in their careers (169 for Mike Gillislee and 121 for Rex Burkhead), their college profiles can still shed significant light on their respective talent levels. Each player spent 4 years in college, Gillislee at the University of Florida and Burkhead at the University of Nebraska. The table below illustrates each player’s key college metrics.

Mike Gillislee could not manage to find the playing field before his senior season breakout. He ranked No. 5, No. 5, and No. 3 on his team in carries during those first 3 seasons, never managing more than 58 carries in a season. There were no future NFL studs preventing him from asserting his dominance either. Names like Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, and Trey Burton will not ring any bells for most NFL fans.  It is difficult for me to trust a player that struggled to win playing time behind such unimpressive talents, especially when the context of Rex Burkhead’s college career is uncovered.

Rex Burkhead asserted dominance in his junior season. In addition, his first two seasons were spent behind Roy Helu, who was a star college RB and 4th round pick. If not for a senior season in which he missed 6 total games due to injury, Burkhead’s college resume would have been superior to Gillislee’s in every way. Neither player had an impressive college yards per carry, although Gillislee’s 9th-percentile showing is particularly dreadful. Burkhead demonstrated better pass-catching ability, which is a skill that both players have demonstrated during their brief action at the NFL level. That ability will not help Burkhead win the Blount role, however. Gillislee’s College Dominator Rating (63rd-percentile) is what sets him apart from Burkhead. Therefore, at a glance, Gillislee’s production profile indicates that he may be better suited for early-down work, but some extra research reveals the contrary

Athletic Profiles

The above table provides evidence of how misguided Mike Gillislee’s massive ADP advantage is. Rex Burkhead is the superior athlete in every metric outside of Speed Score, which is the least important in a short-yardage role. Burkhead won’t be asked to outrun anyone, instead, he can use his exceptional Burst Score (89th-percentile) to explode through holes and punish defenders, or his Agility Score (93rd-percentile) to make them miss at the line of scrimmage. Surprisingly, Burkhead’s BMI at 5-10, 214 pounds makes him a slightly better fit for absorbing the punishment of between-the-tackles grinding than Gillislee’s 5-11, 208-pound frame. With pathetic burst and agility, I would say that straight line speed is his best asset. However, even Gillislee’s best athletic trait (Speed Score) does not cross the 50th-percentile watermark. Burkhead is the superior athlete, especially when you consider the role these two players will be battling to obtain.

Mike Gillislee-Running Back-Buffalo Bills

Mike Gillislee Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

NFL Production and Contract Situation

With a seemingly more impressive college career and a clearly more impressive athletic profile, Rex Burkhead trailing Mike Gillislee in ADP by 8 rounds is difficult to understand. It seems that Gillislee’s productivity and efficiency in limited touches and his more lucrative contract are the factors propelling him to his current ADP peak.


Check out Rex Burkhead on the Updated PlayerProfiler Seasonal & Dynasty Rankings:


Mike Gillislee has averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 148 carries over the past two seasons, scoring an even more impressive 11 TDs during that span as well. His 29.2 Production Premium (No. 9 overall) in 2016 reflects his on-field ability. Gillislee was productive any time he was given the chance to touch the field behind LeSean McCoy on the run-first Buffalo offense. Meanwhile, Rex Burkhead was rarely granted playing time behind Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. In 2016 he accounted for 74 carries and 344 yards. 27 of those carries and 144 of those yards came in a remarkable Week 17 performance against the Baltimore Ravens top-ranked run defense. If given equivalent opportunity in identical situations, it is not out of the question that Burkhead could have been equally as productive as Gillislee. It would be unreasonable to make definite assumptions on either player’s’ ability considering how small the NFL sample size is.

Now, for that difficult contract situation. Rex Burkhead’s 1-year, 3.15 million dollar contract was considered impressive before the Patriots signed Mike Gillislee away from the Bills for 2 years, 6.4 million dollars. On the surface, it appears that New England values Gillislee more, but the guaranteed money is nearly identical. The Patriots can cut Gillislee before the 2018 season with no cap hit, only paying him 3.5 million. For those who don’t like doing math in their heads, that’s only a $350,000 difference.

The fantasy community is drafting under the assumption that Mike Gillislee has been given the keys to the Patriots TD kingdom, even though there is little evidence that he is a better player than Rex Burkhead. The situation could easily turn into a timeshare, which makes it difficult for me to pay such an expensive price. Gillislee very well could end up being the player to own in the backfield, but that outcome is far from a foregone conclusion. Burkhead’s profile suggests he has an equal or better chance of winning the lion’s share of the carries, and he holds the far cheaper price tag. In situations as murky as the New England backfield in 2017, the sharp bet is always on the cheapest asset. Rex Burkhead is the Patriots asset you want to invest in this season.