The Patriots will enter the beginning of the 2017 league season with several important decisions to make in regards to free agency. While the team has the third most salary cap room in the NFL this season, they have a slew of free agents including several who are either starters or important role players.
We’ll be doing profiles on each of the free agents in the upcoming days and give you our take on whether they return or move on. One of the players facing free agency is fullback James Develin.
The Patriots running game struggled in 2015 and much of that had to do with Develin missing the entire season after breaking his leg while catching a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo in Carolina during the preseason.
That year they ran the ball the 7th fewest in the league and ranked 30th in both rushing yardage and yards per attempt. But with Develin back in the fold in 2016 the Patriots rushing game was much more effective. They were 7th in rushing yardage and their 482 rushing attempts were the third most in the league.
While much of the credit belongs to improved play with the offensive line, Develin’s presence had much to do with their success as well.
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 must be in the NFL. He is a very good lead blocker in the running game, can carry the ball the odd time here and there, is very good in pass protection, and can line up as an H-back or as a tight end. He’s also a valued member of the special teams.
Why Develin Will Return: The Patriots under Bill Belichick have always liked to have a fullback in the offense, especially one that can do as much as Develin can.
He won’t be looking for or command a huge salary to remain in New England. There shouldn’t be a tremendous market for him in free agency with many teams beating down his door.
He’s a trusted, valued member of the offense; as a lead blocker, the occasional short yardage run or catch as an H-back or split out as a tight end, Develin is an unheralded but important piece of the offense.
Why Develin Won’t Return: There is always a chance that the team will decide to move on and look to get younger. They’ve already signed insurance with Glenn Gronkowski being signed to a future’s contract.
And of course, another team can always swoop in and offer Develin more money than the Patriots will opt to spend on his value. As much as they value him, with baby Gronk and possibly another camp body added later this spring, there will undoubtedly be some competition there.
Bottom Line: The Patriots know what they have in Develin. Bill Belichick has heaped great praise on him in the past.
“He’s a very smart player, he has good instincts and in the running game when you’re the second-level blocker that he is as a fullback you have a lot of things you have to sort out,” Belichick said. “Even though you have a blocking assignment there are things that happen in front of you whereas if you’re an offensive lineman you’re blocking the guy in front of you where there’s nothing between you and him most of the time.
“When you’re a fullback there are a lot of things that can happen as you go to your assignment. There could be other things that maybe guys move, they twist, they change positions, there’s penetration and you have to make those decisions so a lot of that is decision making. Similar to a running back when he has the ball but in the fullback’s case he really is the running back or the eyes of the running back in terms of taking the right course to the entry point in the play and so forth.
“He does a really good job of making those decisions of doing the right thing, making the smart decision. Regardless of what his assignment is there is a decision-making process within the play that might trump that. Similar to a quarterback following his reads or progression that if something happens and you have to make an alternative decision based on the circumstances of that play then that’s what he has to do. I’d say he does a good job of that but I mean he’s a very smart guy.”
I think the Patriots get a deal done with Develin before free agency starts. It shouldn’t be an exceptionally tough one to do. However, even if he gets to free agency, the feeling here is there is 75 percent chance Develin returns in a Patriots uniform in 2017.
Posted Under: 2017 Free Agency
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season 2017 free agency 2017 Patriots free agents Bill Belichick Dion Lewis James Develin New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots free agents Patriots running backs Tom Brady