The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts in late July, currently have 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s core special teamers.
Name: Brandon King
Position: Linebacker/Strong safety/Special teamer
Jersey number: 36
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6’2, 220 lbs.
2018 review: In March 2018, the Patriots and Brandon King agreed on a two-year, $2.6 million contract extension that would keep him from hitting free agency — a deal showing how New England felt about the former undrafted rookie and his contributions to the team at the time. The season that followed showed why this was the case, as King once more proved his value as a leader and key contributor on New England’s special teams units.
King, who is listed as a linebacker but wearing a defensive back’s number, was exclusively used in the kicking game and saw not even a single snap on defense — the exact same role he played during his first three seasons in the NFL. And in that role, he was again among the team leaders in both special teams tackles and playing time: he saw regular action in the kicking game in all eighteen games he appeared in during the 2019 season.
During the regular season, King missed one game — a week sixteen matchup against the Buffalo Bills — due to a knee injury but was still on the field for 281 of the Patriots’ 453 total special teams snaps (62.0%) before adding 63 more (of 92; 68.5%) during the team’s three playoff contests. When on the field, he was his productive self: he registered a combined 13 tackles during the regular season and playoffs, tied for third best on the team.
King’s role was bigger than ‘just’ 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 punt blocking unit that was inconsistent early on during the regular season and allowed opposing returnmen to gain 2.5 yards more per runback than New England’s did. However, this differential turned into a +7.4 in the Patriots’ favor during the playoffs — in part because due to King’s continued solid performances.
New England had similar success on kickoffs, where King also served as a front-line blocker. The Patriots’ group had a positive net differential of +1.5 yards per runback: while the Patriots’ returners gained 25.6 yards per kickoff return — including one touchdown by wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson — an opponent’s average return went for 24.1 yards (and no scores). King again played a notable part in making this happen.
2019 preview: In May, King signed another extension with the Patriots that added two more years to his existing contract and will keep him in New England through the 2021 season. It goes without saying that the 26-year-old, who hits the Patriots‘ salary cap with $1.36 million this season, is therefore a lock to make the team’s roster — playing the same role he held over the first four years of his career: King will be a core special teamer yet again.
As such, he is projected to be on the field for around 60-70% of New England’s special teams snaps any given week while appearing on all four kick coverage units. King will serve as a gunner on the defensive punt and kickoff teams and once more be among the Patriots’ leaders in special teams tackles; he will also play his usual role as a front-line blocker when his own team fields kicks.
King’s contributions to the team will once again be limited to the kicking game. While listed as a linebacker, he has yet to play even a single snap on defense in his career — something that is not expected to change in 2019. Nevertheless, his value to the Patriots cannot be underestimated given his reliability, experience and productivity as a special teamer. The upcoming season should be more of the same for King.