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Fullback James Develin ‘goes into the corner and gets the puck’ for Patriots

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From practice-squadder to versatile veteran, James Develin’s growth is not lost on head coach Bill Belichick.

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NFL: New England Patriots-Training Camp Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Sept. 2, 2012 marked the first day of James Develin’s New England Patriots tenure.

He’s now on day 1,740.

Given where Develin had been before he arrived in Foxborough, it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise if he departed soon after. From going undrafted out of Brown University as a defensive end, to playing one game in the Arena Football League as an Oklahoma City Yard Dawg, to converting to fullback in the United Football League as a Florida Tusker, to spending a season-plus on the practice squad of the Cincinnati Bengals – Develin was forging a well-rounded football journey to that juncture.

The 28-year-old still is.

“Yeah, James works hard,” head coach Bill Belichick told reporters Wednesday prior to New England’s second session of mandatory minicamp, via “He's improved every year. He's one of the strongest players on our team. Very dependable, smart.”

Develin earned a 53-man roster promotion in the midst of the Patriots’ 2012 regular season and made his debut on special teams in a 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers that December. He was waived and re-signed before the 2013 campaign, and proceeded to appear in all 16 games to accrue 10 yards and a touchdown on four carries, as well as 62 yards on four catches.

But it wasn’t Develin’s work with the football in his hands – aside from the six Houston Texans he shed for his first NFL TD – that kept him around that year. He did the bulk of his work without it.

That’s held true over the four years since.

Develin’s career stat line includes 15 rushing yards and the aforementioned touchdown on eight carries, as well as 143 receiving yards and another score on 17 catches. His multipurpose use has, however, held more weight than those numbers. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder has served as a lead blocker, a reserve tight end and a split-out receiver on offense. On special teams, he’s served as a core member of the field-goal protection, kickoff-return and punt-coverage units.


2012: Zero on offense, 12 on special teams

2013: 322 on offense, 122 on special teams

2014: 256 on offense, 124 on special teams

2015: Injured reserve

2016: 350 on offense, 151 on special teams

Now 57 games and 16 starts – including playoffs – into his time with New England, Develin’s days no longer appear to be numbered. A broken tibia suffered against the Carolina Panthers during the 2015 preseason could have threatened that. Two years on the doorstep of free agency could have, too.

But Develin reached one-year pact to remain a Patriot in March of 2016, and by this March, after a season in which he earned second-team All-Pro recognition from Pro Football Focus, he had penned a two-year, $2.45 million extension to be one through 2018.

Reliability and versatility have made Develin a part of the glue.

“He helps us in a lot of different ways,” added Belichick. “He does a lot of the unsung, dirty jobs. You know, he goes into the corner and gets the puck. He doesn't stand in front of the net and put it in, but he goes and digs it out.”