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Don’t forget about late-bloomer Devin Lucien as Patriots open training camp

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While wide receiver Devin Lucien’s rookie season was spent on the practice squad in Foxborough, there’s reason to wonder where the 2016 seventh-round pick will spend his second.

New England Patriots v New York Giants Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Malcolm Mitchell wasn’t the only wide receiver drafted by the New England Patriots a year ago.

It will be up to Devin Lucien to remind the organization of that as training camp begins Thursday.

At this juncture, it’d be easy to forget New England’s war room selected Lucien three rounds and 113 spots after Mitchell last spring. It’d be easy to call the late-bloomer by way of UCLA and Arizona State as much of an afterthought then as he is now.

In a nine-man Patriots draft class, Lucien was the ninth man. On a 90-man roster, he was the lesser-discussed Sun Devil behind undrafted running back D.J. Foster.

Lucien cannot afford to stay out of the discussion this summer. There’s little room for anonymity on a wideout depth chart headlined by Mitchell, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and trade acquisition Brandin Cooks. There may be no room at all.

If the 24-year-old hangs around for 2017, it’ll likely take a rise out of nowhere.

Though for Lucien, it wouldn’t be the first time.

After catching just 58 passes for 752 yards and four touchdowns through four years at UCLA, the Pac-12 veteran went on to reel in 66 passes for 1,075 yards and eight touchdowns as an Arizona State graduate transfer in 2015.

Lucien’s sudden surge in an offense with pro-style elements and tag-like terminology saw him rank seventh in single-season Sun Devils history in receptions and 11th in receiving yards. It saw him work his way onto the NFL radar from one spring to the next.

Keep in mind: Lucien wasn’t even in Tempe for spring ball ahead of 2015.

“I knew that I had to leave UCLA to put myself in the best position to be drafted,” Lucien said on his post-draft conference call, via Patriots.com, later adding, “The production was everything. I don't think had I stayed at UCLA, I don't think I'd be on this phone call with you guys.”

Lucien caught no more than 29 passes in a campaign during his tenure in UCLA’s spread. He amassed 21 receptions for 534 yards and five touchdowns over his final three games at Arizona State alone.

Perhaps it was his fit within the scheme. Perhaps it was his familiarity with then-quarterback Mike Bercovici and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. Whatever it was, as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick described in his press conference that April, it was “unusual.”

“It's an unusual situation where you have a player like that go in the same conference, and so you can kind of see him against the same competition but with a different team and a different offense,” Belichick said of Lucien. “It was interesting, but he did. He went down there and had a good year with not much practice, not much lead-up.”

Lucien’s ability to catch on quickly played no small part in New England’s evaluation. But his lone catches as a Patriots rookie would transpire in the second halves of preseason games, opposite many players who, like himself, would soon become unclaimed names on the transaction wire.

Lucien was stuck at zero until the fourth quarter of New England’s Aug. 26 exhibition meeting with the Carolina Panthers. It was then that No. 16 got in the stat sheet as he slanted, sat, and waited for rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett to find him.

A cutback to the outside saw him turn the check-down throw into a 12-yard gain.

The next sample from Lucien would come a week later, in the third quarter of the Sept. 1 preseason finale against the New York Giants, as Brissett again checked in under center.

Lucien hitched and swung upfield for 20 yards on one play. Then, in the minutes that followed, he netted seven more yards on an above-the-rim grab from Brissett down in the red zone.

Only to be dealt a late hit and an early exit.

Three preseason receptions for 39 yards. That’d be all for Lucien in 2016.

The rest of his routes run and passes caught would take place behind closed doors on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium.

How Lucien fared from there is up to interpretation. But he remained longer than the likes of Nate Washington, Aaron Dobson, Keshawn Martin, DeAndre Carter and high school teammate Chris Harper did.

New England waived Lucien at the 53-man deadline and kept him in the fold as the practice squad formed on Sept. 5. There the 6-foot-2, 200-pound target stayed, earning one practice player of the week honor by the time he earned a reserve-futures contract in February.

Lucien, now wearing No. 13, is among nine receivers in Foxborough. And despite Andrew Hawkins’ retirement announcement on Tuesday, the climb is no less steep for the former seventh-rounder who’s been regarded for his intelligence, size, hands and after-the-catch work more so than speed.

Which is all the more reason to keep tabs on Lucien as the Patriots reconvene.

He could be back on the 10-man scout team if the competition unfolds as expected over the next five weeks. Or, with enough of a case, he could be playing regular-season snaps.

Those snaps might not be for the team that drafted him. But camp, joint practices and preseason games are an audition before more eyes than New England’s.