Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski. These are some of the names that will probably come up when you ask Patriot fans who their favorite players are. I would even mention those names if you asked me that same question. But you would probably be surprised by my answer when I followed up those names with fullback James Develin. A fullback? There are barely any them left in the league! Yes, I am aware of the declining usage rates of fullbacks throughout the NFL. But the Patriots are one of the few teams that still utilize the position in their running attack. Develin, the newly selected Pro Bowler, puts in work every week while being a quality teammate and Patriot. His selection is just another testament of the fullback’s work ethic that usually goes unnoticed and overlooked.
Develin’s journey to New England is just like any other Patriot: unconventional. He went to Brown University where he was a defensive lineman and an Engineering major. He went undrafted and signed with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz of the Arena Football League in 2010 after a failed tryout with the Cleveland Browns. Following the completion of the season, he began looking for Engineering jobs, assuming his dreams of playing in the NFL were out of reach. Then Bill came swooping in and the rest is history! No, the Patriot way is not that easy. Develin received a call from the Florida Tuskers of the now disbanded United Football League. Then Head Coach Jay Gruden (the current Head Coach of the Washington Redskins) wanted him to switch to fullback, a position he did not have much experience with at the time. Devlin gave it a shot and halfway through the season, became the team’s starting fullback.
After losing in the championship game to the Las Vegas Locomotives (I know, awesome name), Develin received a call from the Cincinnati Bengals with an offer to join their practice squad. There, he was reunited with Gruden where he remained until 2012. He was released by the team after training camp but the next day, he was signed to the Patriots practice squad. A year later, he was signed to the 53-man roster and has been a major part of two Super Bowl winning teams.
The first thing you will notice about Develin is how much of a team player he is. Being a fullback, he receives few touches and very little recognition. But that does not stop him from being the best hype man for his running backs. He is often one of the first ones to the ball after we have scored and he brings the most energy.
These are not playoff games or special career milestones. These are just normal touchdowns, the second of the two coming during another Patriot blowout of the New York Jets. During that same game, NFL Films caught a special moment between LeGarrette Blount and Develin (2:32). After scoring another touchdown, Devlin approached Blount, hugged him and said, "I just want to let you know, I’ll block for you for my whole life." Moments like these not only highlight the special bond that Blount and Develin shared, but also epitomize who James Develin is as a person and how great of a teammate he is.
With that being said, I have yet to even speak on how good Develin actually is on the field. For starters, he is currently the fourth highest ranked fullback according to Pro Football Focus, but he has been as high as number one at different times this season. Watch him on any given play and you will see the absolute force he brings as he runs through the hole, clearing paths for the running backs. One standout play from week 10’s game versus the Denver Broncos demonstrates how valuable he is to our running game.
Develin is lined up in the backfield as the fullback behind Brady. He does a great job of meeting the linebacker in the hole and creating space for Dion Lewis to run untouched for a good 3-4 yards. A pile up then ensues and Develin is the first Patriot to Lewis, immediately leaving his block to help push Lewis forward for an extra yard. These are not things that show up on the stat sheet and usually go unnoticed by most people. But it is plays like this that really make me appreciate how great of a fullback James Develin is.
Develin also unofficially has the most beast touchdown in the history of the Patriots. This play versus the Texans in 2013 is his only regular season rushing touchdown of his career and he did it in typical James Develin fashion, bruising through defenders.
He has yet to record his first receiving touchdown, but as Mike Reiss pointed out, Tom Brady is two players away from breaking Vinny Testaverde’s record for the most amount of players to have thrown a touchdown to. So I would definitely be on the look out for a potential James Develin receiving touchdown somewhere down the line when the Patriots are in the red zone.
Prior to every game, Develin calls his parents. Before he hangs up the phone, his mom always tells him to play with his heart. This Sunday when the Patriots take on the Bills, keep a close eye on Develin, whether he is playing special teams or fullback. You may be drawn to how well he creates holes in our running game, or how versatile he is for such a big man. But for me, I can't help but notice the amount of heart and passion he plays with every play. He truly embodies what it means to be a Patriot and when he finally gets that receiving touchdown from Brady, I'll be celebrating just as hard as he will be. For now, the satisfaction I receive from his first Pro Bowl selection will suffice because he has earned it.