With opening day still three months away and the mandatory portion of the initial wave of offseason workouts over, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
During workouts and OTAs, players still have a chance to lay the foundation for their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we’ll continue the series with one of the Patriots' core special teamers.
Name: Brandon King
Position: Strong safety / Special teamer
Jersey number: 36
Opening day age: 24
Size: 6’2, 220 lbs.
2016 review: During his second NFL season, Brandon King solidified his standing as one of the Patriots’ core special teams players and showed that his impressive rookie campaign was no fluke. While King, who is listed as a defensive back on New England’s roster, did not play a single defensive snap all year long, the former undrafted rookie was heavily featured in the kicking game. Serving as a gunner opposite of All Pro Matthew Slater, King appeared in 16 regular season games as well as all three of New England’s postseason contests.
He was among the team leaders in both special teams tackles and playing time. King was on the field for 300 of the Patriots’ 449 regular season snaps (66.8%) and added 71 more (of 93; 76.3%) during the playoffs. When on the field, King was a productive player: He registered nine special teams takedowns over the course of the regular season (second-most on the team) as well as one tackle during the playoffs.
His role was bigger than tackling players on kickoff and punt coverage units, though, as King also was a member of the Patriots’ blocking teams. Usually serving on the first line of blockers, King was part of a unit that gave its punt returners room for 6.9 yards per return – only the 25th highest average in the NFL but better (in part because of King’s contributions as a gunner) than opponents’ 5.0 yards.
While the same statistical success was not to be found on kickoffs, where King also served on the front line and New England had a -0.6 yard net average, the Patriots' kickoff blocking units still had a solid albeit mostly unspectacular season. Mistakes happened mostly because of individual breakdowns; King typically played his role well. His second NFL season was therefore another step forward.
2017 preview: After the 2016 season, King’s contract ended and he became an exclusive rights free agent. New England did not let him hit the open market, though, and instead placed a one-year tender sheet on him – one that King signed in early April. As a result, he will return on a one-year deal paying him a non-guaranteed salary of $615,000.
Due to his team-friendly cap number, role and growth as player over his first two seasons in the NFL, King has a very good chance of making the Patriots’ 53-man roster yet again. While his defensive contributions will likely remain limited or non-existent, he is projected to play a key role in the kickoff and punt return game once more.
As such, the 24-year old will again see around 70.0% of all special teams snaps and finish the year among the team leaders in kicking game tackles. He will also serve as a core member of the blocking units and if his progression continues be well on his way to potentially become one of the NFL’s best pure special teamers.