Battering Ram: How unsung James Develin carved out a role and adds grit to Pats offense

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photoNew England Patriots fullback James Develin (46) responds to a reporters question, during the Patriots press conference, at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta.

ATLANTA – Seven years, including four trips to Super Bowl, and James Develin comes clean.

His NFL career and Patriots Dynasty ride is all based on a lie.

“My agent called me and said I had a tryout with a UFL (United Football League) team in Orlando and needed to get on a plane immediately,” said Develin, referring to the Florida Tuskers.

“He said, ‘Oh yeah, one other thing. They are looking for a fullback. Don’t tell them you’ve never played fullback before.’”

So how did we get from the Big Lie to Big Game No. 4 for Develin?

Among the hundreds, maybe thousands of Bill Belichick-induced stories, Develin’s unsung role on this team, growing with every year, might be in the top 10.

A mechanical engineer at Brown University, he had set up a few interviews upon completing his eligibility. But pro football was the only goal.

He had a very good career, two second-team All-Ivy League nominations, but was never considered a star.

His problem going forward was his body. He played defensive lineman for four years. But he was built more like a linebacker.

“I didn’t want to give up football,” said Develin, a native of southeastern Pennsylvania. “I pretty much figured my body type wasn’t suited for the defensive line for pro football, so I was open to anything. Honestly, I’d have played anywhere they’d put me.”

A year with the Florida Huskers, under coach Jay Gruden (now with the head coach of the Washington Redskins), opened a door on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad for nearly 14 months.

It was during the preseason of 2012, the Patriots were scouting a Bengals game and he apparently was on their radar. He was released after the game.

“James played a little bit and caught our eye,” said Patriots general manager Nick Caserio. “We saw a few things we liked. And he became available.”

What did Caserio & Co. see?

How about these: True grit. A player who enjoys collisions. A player who doesn’t say boo.

Why have a fullback when the pro game has turned into league with an average of 65 percent of passes completed? A league that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick reacted to when defenses were not allowed to touch quarterbacks and ticky-tack penalties are called on defensive backs?

Belichick’s genius comes through in spades.

While teams followed suit, adding quicker linebackers or extra defensive backs, the Patriots didn’t acquiesce and instead went the other way, using that roster spot for an old-fashioned fullback.

Enter a former defensive lineman out of Brown who lied his way into pro football.

In his seventh season, which is seven seasons longer than his career was supposed to last, Develin’s grit (lead blocking) hasn’t changed, but his production has.

Develin rushed for four touchdowns this season, four more than he scored from 2012 through 2017.

And his 12 receptions this regular season, were seven short of the 19 he had his first six seasons. In fact, he had a catch for a first down (nine yards) in Kansas City.

But he was on the field for all of Sony Michel’s playoff touchdowns, leading the way each time. He also was the lead block for Rex Burkhead’s overtime game-clincher from two yards out.

Did I mention he has zero contract disputes – he’s in first year of 2-year, $3.8 million deal – and hasn’t uttered a controversial word in seven seasons?

If you think that makes him a favorite for the Teacher’s Pet Award since Danny Amendola left after last season, you are correct.

"James epitomizes hard word, diligence, physical and mental toughness, determination; how all that can result in success. He's done that,” said Belichick. “He spent a year on the practice squad with the Bengals. He spent a year on our practice squad. He was a defensive player, trying to play offense who finally found a home at fullback.

“He has a role that is important and a lot of guys have roles. It is not always the guy who scores the touchdown,” said Belichick. “It's about everyone doing their part. James is very dependable in his assignments – his toughness, his durability, and doing other things when he needs to. Whether it is catch, run or cover kicks.”

A recent national story ranked all of the starters in this Super Bowl – 22 on offense and 22 on defense.

Develin was ranked dead last … No. 44.

Rams linebacker Ramik Wilson was informed of the Super Bowl player rankings.

“Develin was ranked last? Don’t believe that for a second,” said Wilson. “He’s a big body guy. He likes to hit. All you have to do is look at the success of Sony [Michel].

“Best way to stop him? You have to smash it,” said Wilson. “If Sony gets a big run, they will do it again, with Develin. I don’t know about any rankings, but Develin looks good on film to me.”

The bottom line is Develin is no bit player. In fact, he was named to the Pro Bowl team last year, which wasn’t as good as this year.

But the stats are collateral damage. When the Patriots run the ball, a lot, and win, Develin probably was at the top of his game.

“I look at myself as the body guard of the running backs,” said Develin.

“He’s a tough dude,” said Rams linebacker Corey Littleton. “He’s like having an offensive tackle playing fullback.”

This Patriots offense, which has converted to a run-pass balance like the Patriots teams from the early 2000s, is being led by Develin.

And that’s no lie.

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

 

READER BOX

Develin’s a superstar in weight room

While James Develin might not be considered a superstar on the field, there is no debate about his stardom in the weight room.

“Yes, he is a superstar in the weight room,” said Patriots special teams star Matthew Slater. “It’s unbelievable how strong he is.”

How strong is Develin?

According to the Patriots fullback himself, he says he can squat 670 pounds. He also says he has bench-pressed 500 pounds.

Body By Boyle director Steve Bunker, of the Middleton location, said those numbers were spectacular.

"Incredibly strong," said Bunker. "It's the equivalent of running a sub-four-minute mile. Most skilled players are squatting around 400 pounds. That squat and bench numbers are what you find for 330-pound linemen."

 

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