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 studying sessions, 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 will continue the series with New England’s top fullback.
Name: James Develin
Jersey number: 46
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6’3, 255 lbs.
2016 review: Over his five seasons in New England, James Develin has established himself as a productive and reliable cog in the Patriots' offensive machinery. 2016 was no different, despite the veteran having to fight his way back from a broken tibia that caused him to miss the entirety of the 2015 season. Fight back Develin did, and was able to re-establish himself as one of the NFL's premier fullbacks.
As a fullback/tight end-hybrid that also saw regular playing time on special teams, Develin appeared in every one of the Patriots' 2016 games: He was active for all 16 regular season games and the team's three postseason contests. He played 351 of a possible 1,120 offensive snaps (31.3%) during the regular season as well as 151 (of 449; 33.6%) in the kicking game.
During the regular season, Develin saw most of his playing time as a blocker out of the backfield. As such, he helped New England rush for 1,872 yards and 19 touchdowns; 7th and 5th best in the NFL. Develin was also occasionally moved around the formation – from tight end to outside receiver – and served as a target in the passing game. Overall, he finished the regular season with three receptions for 18 yards.
On special teams, Develin served as an interior gunner on the Patriots' punt and kickoff coverage units and was also used as a wedge blocker in the kickreturn game. In that role he a) helped Dion Lewis score the Patriots' first ever postseason kickoff return touchdown and b) fielded three kicks himself, returning them for a total of 35 yards.
The playoffs were more of the same for the versatile veteran. As a traditional fullback, rotational tight end and member of New England's jumbo packages, Develin played 68 of 242 snaps on offense (27.0%); he added 27 of 93 (29.0%) snaps on special teams. And while his numbers were again not eye-popping – two catches for 13 yards –, he proved himself an important member of the Patriots' backfield and tight end corps.
2017 preview: Following New England's Super Bowl LI victory, James Develin was scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency. However, he never hit the open market as the team re-signed him to a two-year, $2.45 million contract two days before the start of the new league year. In 2017, the contract will hit the Patriots' salary cap with $1.38 million – the 29th highest number on the team and a reasonable price tag for one of the NFL's premier fullbacks.
Naturally, his contract and past productivity make him a lock to be on New England's 53-man roster this upcoming season. And as such, he will once again play his usual role: Develin will be the team's lead blocker out of the backfield as well as a depth option at the tight end position. Furthermore, the soon-to-be 29-year old is also projected to see regular playing time in the kicking game.
And while Develin will never stand out on the stat sheet, as evidenced by his 28 total career touches, he will continue to play the role the coaching staff asks him to play at a high level. Consequently, he embodies the Patriots' "Do Your Job"-mentality – and in 2017, he will be ableo to show it once again, and maybe even earn his third Super Bowl ring along the way.