Patriots’ Develin is Proof That Hard Work Pays Off
FOXBORO -- James Develin is an NFL throwback.
Develin has a sheepskin in mechanical engineering from Brown University and, on rare occasions, gets to carry the pigskin for the New England Patriots.
The former Ivy League defensive lineman doesn’t get many opportunities to rush to glory. Fortunately, the Pro Bowl fullback doesn’t mind living vicariously while running interference in the Patriots’ high-powered attack.
Whether he’s utilized as a body guard for quarterback Tom Brady, or leading the way through a hole as a glorified guard, Develin relishes the opportunity to spend game days serving as a battering ram to daylight for his teammates.
Dating back to 2012 when he first was signed by New England to the practice squad, Develin hasn’t taken many steps backward in what’s been a straight-ahead approach when it comes to breaking down barriers in his career or putting a pad on any defender in his path.
His play at fullback, special teams and, on occasion, tight end has enabled him to carve out a vital niche with the Patriots, while earning two Super Bowl rings.
“Anything is possible as long as you are willing to put the work in,” said Develin. “If you believe in yourself, you can do a lot. This is definitely something I didn’t anticipate. But I knew it was possible. So I just kept putting my best foot forward and seeing where it took me.”
Despite standing 6-foot-3 and weighing 255 pounds, coming out of college Develin knew he didn’t possess the size needed to play on the line, nor the speed to thrive at linebacker, in the NFL. So he reinvented himself as a player, making the switch to fullback/tight end.
Develin played arena ball for the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz of the Arena Football League and Florida Tuskers of the United Football League before spending parts of two seasons on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad. He was on New England’s practice squad for virtually all of the 2012 season, appearing in one game with the Patriots that fall.
Develin cracked the Patriots lineup for good in 2013. Since then, he has appeared in all 16 regular-season games each year for the Patriots -- with the exception of missing the entire 2015 campaign with a broken leg. For his career, Develin has 19 receptions for 161 yards, while carrying the ball seven times for 15 yards and one touchdown.
“People always kind of look down on the Ivy League, that it’s (below) standards when it comes to athletics, especially football,” said Develin, 30. “But anything is possible. I’m living testament to that. As long as you are willing to work, you can do anything.
“Don’t ever listen to people who tell you, ‘No, you’re not good enough. No, you’re too small. No, you’re too slow.’ There’s always someone out there looking for someone who is willing to put the work in.”
When it came to Develin, that “someone” happened to be Bill Belichick.
“I can tell you it’s a blessing to be out here with those guys,” said Develin. “To be coached by the greatest coach of all-time. To be in the same huddle as the greatest quarterback of all-time. There’s so much I can learn from those two, not only in football, but in life. So I’m just trying to be a sponge around those guys and learn as much as possible and emulate them in any way I can.”
Last season, Develin became the first Patriots fullback to earn Pro Bowl honors since Sam Cunningham in 1978. Develin may not be cast in the role of the Patriots’ lead back, but Belichick certainly values him as a lead blocker. In June, the Patriots rewarded Develin by giving him a two-year contract extension, worth $3.8 million, that included a $600,000 signing bonus.
“There are plenty of fullbacks, if you really look around,” said Develin. “The past couple years the majority of the teams that made it to the playoffs carried a true fullback. The position is still alive and well and there are guys out there really doing great things for their offense at this position. It’s a position that gets the moniker of dying out. They call it a dinosaur. But there’s still value to the fullback position.”
Develin’s pay stub is proof of that. Even though the Patriots showed him the money, Develin’s work ethic remains the same as it was when he was a practice squad player.
“I’ve always kind of taken the approach that I’m a young guy who is always trying to prove myself,” said Develin. “It’s weird to be in my seventh camp. I try to grow every day and become a better player.”
Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi.