Three members of the 2012 New England Patriots rookie class remain.
Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower – taken No. 25 overall – is one. Ohio State safety-in-title Nate Ebner – taken No. 197 overall – is two.
The third member wasn’t taken.
Brandon Bolden’s NFL entrance wasn’t announced between April 26 and April 28, when the Patriots called the names of seven. His was instead made official two weeks later, when the organization released its initial list of rookie free-agent signings on May 10.
Joining the Ole Miss running back, the opening wave of undrafted additions included Kentucky wide receiver Matt Roark, Iowa tight end Brad Herman, Iowa offensive tackle Markus Zusevics, South Florida guard Jeremiah Warren, Miami defensive tackle Marcus Forston, as well as Rutgers defensive end Justin Francis.
Of that group, only Forston and Francis would go on to appear in a regular-season game for New England.
Bolden has since appeared in 67.
Although before he’d be active for his first, he’d draw comparisons to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who joined the Patriots as an undrafted rookie four seasons prior and departed from Foxborough less than two months before Bolden arrived. And with a quick glance, it was easy to see why the thought was conjured.
Both hailed from the Runnin’ Rebels program. Both checked in at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds. Both had the dreadlocks and the visor. Bolden, though, has never proven to be Green-Ellis, who posted a 1,000-yard, 13-touchdown campaign while a member of the Patriots and went all 536 touches of his tenure without fumbling.
But he’s proven to be tough to part with.
“Brandon has got a lot of experience on this team in a number of different roles,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said during a postgame press conference in November of 2015. “He's been through it all – running game, passing game, blitz pickup, special teams – multiple roles in that. He's a smart guy. You can always count on him.”
The brightest rushing performance of Bolden’s time with the Patriots still stands as his fourth career game. It was then that the rookie back wound down the Buffalo Bills on 16 carries and finished with 137 yards and his second touchdown in as many weeks. But since that flash of an expanded role in the running game, Bolden hasn’t surpassed 58 rushing yards in a game. He’s garnered double-digit carries on only four occasions. And his work on the ground has netted him four additional touchdowns.
As for production out of the backfield, Bolden’s tallied 46 catches for 366 yards with two trips to the end zone across his five seasons in New England, with only one of those catches taking place this past season.
But by and large, there’s something to be said for what No. 38 has been able to accrue. He has stayed in the fold longer than his Ole Miss predecessor. He’s managed to stay longer than five of the draft picks and all six of those early undrafted signings who entered rookie minicamp alongside him. He’s managed to earn his third contract.
“He studies hard,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels told reporters on a conference call later in the 2015 campaign. “He's a guy that comes to work and prepares well. There's always been a lot of talent with Brandon and his dependability and his ability to do a lot of different things within our offense has just improved with each year that he's been here. Brandon's a good runner and he does a lot of things that are really valuable to our football team, whether it be on offense or in the kicking game.”
Bolden handled the football three times altogether in 2016. He played 13 snaps on offense while tallying 264 on special teams.
The latter phase has taken center stage for him. But his utility value isn’t lost in that. It’s been his understudy opportunities filling in for injured backs of differing skillsets like Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Dion Lewis. It’s been his pass protection. It’s been his blocked punt, his three forced fumbles, and his 20 tackles on the coverage units.
It’s been about all four downs. The 27-year-old Bolden has been called upon to handle each. And as he returns to a depth chart that currently consists of Rex Burkhead, James White, D.J. Foster and Lewis, his purpose is not a redundant one.
The Patriots wouldn’t have re-signed the unrestricted free agent Wednesday if it were.