The New England Patriots currently have the maximum of 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with a core special teamer:
Name: Brandon King
Position: Strong safety / linebacker / special teamer
Jersey number: 36
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6’2, 220 lbs.
2017 review: In April 2017, exclusive rights free agent Brandon King signed his non-guaranteed $615,000 tender sheet to remain with the Patriots for another year. And as had been the case during his first two seasons in the NFL, the former undrafted rookie who is listed as a linebacker and wears a defensive back’s number saw no snaps on defense: King was again used exclusively on special teams as one of the teams’ gunners.
In that role, he was again among the team leaders in both special teams tackles and playing time. Appearing in 13 regular season games, King was on the field for 236 of the Patriots’ 451 snaps (52.3%) and added 59 more (of 89; 66.3%) during the team’s three playoff contests. When on the field, he was his productive self: He registered a combined 10 tackles during the regular season and playoffs, tied for best on the team.
King’s role was bigger than tackling players on kickoff and punt coverage units, though, as he also was a member of the Patriots’ blocking teams. Usually serving on the first line of blockers, he was part of a unit that gave its punt returners room for 8.2 yards per return – a fairly average number, coming in at 12th league-wide, but still noticeably better than what opponents gained against New England’s coverage units (4.6 yards per punt return).
While the same statistical success was not found on kickoffs, where King also served on the front line, New England’s group still had a positive net differential of +3.3 yards per runback: While the Patriots’ returners gained 22.2 yards per kickoff return, an opponent’s average return went for only 18.9 yards. King played a big part in making this happen.
2018 preview: Coming off his one-year exclusive rights tender, King was scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in March. However, the Patriots did not let this happen and instead locked their core special teamer up on a two-year, $2.6 million contract four days before the market opened. King will now hit New England’s salary cap with $1.18 million this season – a bargain for a kicking game player of his caliber.
Due to his team-friendly salary cap numbers, important role, and growth as player over his first three seasons in the NFL, King can be seen as a lock to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster yet again. While his defensive contributions will likely remain non-existent, the nominal safety/linebacker hybrid is projected to play a key role in the kickoff and punt return procedures once more.
As such, the 25-year old will again play 50-70% of all special teams snaps and finish the year among the team leaders in kicking game tackles. King will also serve as a core member of the blocking units and manifest himself as one of the NFL’s best pure special teamers – and the front-runner to become the potential heir to fellow Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater.