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Pats Playbook: The James Develin Series (Part 1: Inside Lead Blocking)

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How the Patriots create big running lanes with James Develin.

NFL: Houston Texans at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

My last post in the Pats Playbook series was about how the New England Patriots run power from 1-back sets. Now, we’ll get into how the Patriots use various running plays out of 2-back sets, utilizing James Develin as a lead blocker. For part one, I’ll be taking a look at plays where Develin leads inside. Part two will focus on plays where Develin leads outside, and part three will be about Develin at the goal line.

James Develin is tremendous as a lead blocker both inside and outside. He can lead onto linebackers in Iso, he can kick out defensive ends in power, he can “wham” interior linemen in fullback wham situations... New England can utilize this fullback chess piece in so many ways, and it creates great stress on the defense when New England shows the same exact run action, but instead use play action.

Depending on the front, New England has wrinkles to get their running backs into the secondary. Speaking of which, pay close attention to the amount of blocks Julian Edelman makes on strong safeties in these clips. He is essential to the running game because his skilled run blocking allows the backs to get one-on-ones in space with cornerbacks. As you’ll see, New England won these one-on-ones all year.


Lead Iso is a run New England used a ton of last season. It involves a double team at the point of attack and a fullback lead block on a linebacker. Depending on the front, New England will send Develin through various bubbles on the defense. Bubbles are gaps that . defensive linemen don’t occupy, at least pre snap. This is because a linebacker will typically have that gap, which is why the Lead Iso play is so good; it allows the runner to read the fullback’s lead block through the bubble and get into the secondary.

Strong B-gap Bubble vs Under fronts

Against Under fronts, Develin will usually lead through the strong side B-gap bubble off of the center and guard’s double team on the strong side Nose.

You can see in the last clip that stunts can alter who Develin lead blocks, but the same idea applies; Develin leads through the B-gap bubble onto a linebacker.

Strong C-gap Bubble vs Bear fronts

Against bear fronts, Develin will usually lead through the strong side C-gap bubble off of the guard and tackle’s double-team on the strong side tackle.

Strong A-gap Bubble vs Over fronts:

Versus over fronts, Develin will usually lead through the strong side A-gap bubble off of the center and guard’s double-team on the weak side nose.

The guard’s one-on-one block on the strong side 3-technique here is an important one to keep that A-gap bubble clean.

Weak B-gap Bubble vs Over fronts

When New England goes weak side against over fronts, Develin will usually lead through the weak side B-gap bubble off of the center and guard’s double-team on the weak side nose.

Play Action

When New England goes play action, the team still blocks the front the same way it would on Lead Iso. This creates a very realistic play fake that often sucks in the second level defenders, opening up big throwing lanes.

Notice how well protected Tom Brady is on most of these passes. The Patriots are very good at not only making their play action passes look like their runs, but also maintaining good pass protection.

Extra Lead Iso examples

I thought both of these clips showed two really cool wrinkles New England runs sometimes. The first is Iso with two lead blockers (Develin and Dwayne Allen), and the second is a great Lead Draw; since the cornerback is in man coverage on Rob Gronkowski, the corner must follow him when Gronk goes to block the linebacker, taking him out of position to make the one-on-one tackle in space on Sony Michel.

Wham

The Patriots will also switch things up by having Develin block a defensive linemen, rather than leading onto a linebacker. This confuses the defense and also creates some good angles. Another benefit is that typically, by having a fullback block a down lineman, it frees up an offensive lineman to block a linebacker.

Replacing Rob Gronkowski’s ability to block as a tight end will be difficult, but New England should be prepared. In 2018, these running plays with James Develin as an inside lead blocker created good, consistent yardage, and the play action passes off of these runs led to big throwing windows for other receivers, not just Rob Gronkowski. While their 11-personnel package will be less powerful without Gronk, their 21-personnel package remains strong with Develin, and we could even see some more 20-personnel next season.

The next Pats Playbook post will be on runs where New England sends James Develin to lead outside on plays like stretch and power!