The Patriots have a couple of decisions to make in regard to free agents this offseason, but they are mainly to do with their role players and not with the starters like last year or the upcoming 2017 season.
One of their better if unsung role players is fullback James Develin. Develin missed the entire 2015 season after breaking his tibia during the preseason. During the preseason game in Carolina against the Panthers, Develin caught a pass from Jimmy Garappolo and leg seemed to get caught in the turf. He went down and team trainers and doctors immediately put an air cast on his leg as he was carted off.
But if he in fact does return, 2016 will mark the fourth season as a member of the Patriots for the big fullback from Brown University.
Develin took a different path to the NFL, he played defensive end at Brown, not playing fullback until 2010 while playing for the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League. He was signed by the Bengals and spent two seasons as a member of their practice squad. He was released near the end of the 2012 training camp and was quickly signed by the Patriots and has been a fixture ever since.
He is a versatile piece for the Patriots as fullbacks have to be in the NFL these days. He is a very good lead blocker in the running game, can carry the rock the odd time here and there, is good in pass protection, and can line up as an H-back or as a tight end. He’s also an excellent member of the special teams.
He’s a good target as a pass receiver and has shined in limited opportunities there, catching his first touchdown pass in the AFC Championship Game against the Colts as well as adding a catch in the Super Bowl win over Seattle.
Bill Belichick, during the preseason last year had high praise for Develin stating: “On a day-to-day basis, James is one of the most dependable players we have,” he said, adding “James is a tough kid, he’s very smart. Assignments are never a problem for him,” Belichick said. “He’s got good hands. He’s got a lot of things going for him.”
Tom Brady called Develin, “one of the more self-less players we have”.
His value won’t show up with his stats, he’s only caught 10 passes for 105 yards and rushed for a single touchdown as a member of the Patriots but he makes those other players around him in the running game better. His loss last season may have been a bigger blow for the offense than was originally envisioned as he was always able to fulfill a variety of roles.
His presence actually helps the passing game, and although he has only caught 10 passes, when he’s on the field opponents have to respect the run. And no one loves play action more than Tom Brady. So when linebackers and safeties cheat up close to the line looking to stop the run, the play action pass opens up some room for the other skill plays to operate in.
Belichick during the preseason left the option out there for an even bigger role for him prior to his going down. “Sure, I think every player has an opportunity to find his role on the team,” Belichick said. “That’s based on that player’s performance and production. That’s up to each individual to do that and create that for himself. I don’t really have any control over it. The players that play the best and are the most productive will get the most opportunity, and the ones that don’t have to try to somehow show and create that for themselves. Everybody on the team is pretty much in that same boat.”
Why Develin Will Return: Develin has been a trusted and dependable player for the team for a couple of seasons and there’s no reason to believe that he can’t continue to do that. A broken leg sometimes is much easier rehab than an ACL/MCL type injury and he should be back to 100 percent by the beginning of the OTAs and mini-camps.
He won’t command a huge salary so his contract won’t one of those high dollar deals that would give the team pause.
And the biggest reason for his return is that the team missed him in some of the short yardage situations, blocking for the runners as the lead back as well as filling in as a tight end on occasion as well as an H-back. His presence in short yardage as a blocker also opened things up in the passing game as well with play action.
Why Develin Won’t Return: The Patriots may decide that they need an upgrade here. They already have Joey Iosefa to give him competition and he flashed for a brief moment last season. Or if he’s having some kind of lingering effect from his broken leg, which would be doubtful, since it was deemed a “clean break” at the time.
The team met with Glenn Gronkowski, Rob’s younger brother at the Senior Bowl this week and he projects to do many of the same things that Develin can do as well. So there may be more competition for him this season than before.
Bottom Line: There’s a great chance that Develin returns in 2016, he’s a trusted member of the offense, he’s dependable and he is very versatile, something Belichick loves in his players. The team really missed his contributions on the field in 2015.
It will be a shock if the team doesn’t bring him back for another season as a member of the Patriots. So I would think that there is better than a 80 percent chance that the team will resign him this spring.
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