New England Patriots fullback James Develin is returning to the field after spending the 2015 season in the injured reserve with a broken leg. The running game floundered with him on the sideline, as the team used a mash of right guard Shaq Mason and practice squad tight end Asante Cleveland in his stead; it didn’t work.
Develin’s back, and I previously thought he was fighting for his roster life in camp. Tight end Clay Harbor received a massive $400,000 signing bonus, which is usually enough to guarantee a roster spot; I thought Harbor’s spot would be at the expense of Develin.
I’m starting to think my judgment was premature.
The fullback played just seven snaps on offense and seven snaps on special teams against the New Orleans Saints, but his value to the team goes far beyond the field.
“I think James is great to have on the team,” head coach Bill Belichick said on Sunday. “He's a great teammate. He has a lot of great attributes; his toughness, he catches the ball, very smart, so those things are good.”
“He's a big part of our team,” quarterback Tom Brady added on Sunday. “Coach [Bill Belichick] always says, 'Do your job,' and nobody does a better job than James. He embraces his role. Obviously, lead blocking; I think the running backs have a lot of trust in what he does. He does a good job catching the ball. He's really a great leader for our team. He always sets the example, so he's kind of a typical Patriot – a dependable, tough, smart football player.”
Develin’s job with the Patriots is to be the lead blocker in the backfield and he has the trust of the players and the coaching staff. I originally thought Clay Harbor could overtake Develin for that role, but Harbor has not been active for a lot of camp due to an injury.
Belichick thinks that Develin’s function as a role player is worth a roster spot because of all the important plays that he is a part of during the game.
“Situations like goal line and short-yardage are pretty important situations so they might carry a little more weight than other situations,” Belichick said. “I think he's been [on the field] somewhere between 10 to 25 percent offensively, so a hundred to a couple of hundred plays. It's somewhere in that ballpark.”
[Note: Develin has played 26.9% of snaps in 2013, 22.6% in 2014]
Develin is a part of short-yardage situations and crucial clock killing drives and that’s what makes him so valuable to the Patriots. Develin has a laid out role in the offense and can contribute on special teams. That’s enough for Belichick to keep him around.
“It's hard to replace guys like [Develin],” Brady said. “We lost him in our third preseason game last year, so that was a tough loss I think just emotionally for the whole team because of what he did the year before and just the toughness that he brings. In order to be a good football team, you've got to be tough, you've got to be disciplined, you've got to be smart, and he's one of those guys that brings all three to the table for us.”
Develin seems to have the support of two of the most important leaders of the franchise, he has a role on offense and on special teams, and he does it all at a high level. I’m thinking that we’ll be watching Develin in the Patriots backfield for the 2016 season and beyond.