NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
According to multiple sources the Patriots are on the verge of signing 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist and former Florida Gator RB/WR Jeff Demps to a contract. Demps who was widely regarded as the fastest player in college football, will impact the Patriots special teams and kick return units immediately.
Last season the Patriots finished 29th in the NFL in kick returns, averaging only 21.4 yards per return. It was a major area of weakness for the team all of last season, and continued to be up to this point in the preseason. Yesterday, Coach Bill Belichick was asked about the struggling unit and the importance of a good kick return. He has this to say:
“We didn’t return them very well in any conditions, at any time. And still haven’t, based on the New Orleans game. That’s obviously an area we can improve in and we have worked hard in, but based on the results, still need to do a lot more work on. It’s an important area in the game, a big momentum play. It’s a way to answer the opponents’ score or the start of the half, whatever the situation is there. It’s a big play in the game. We put a lot of stock in that, just like we do every other play.”
Enter Jeff Demps.
Demps was eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft, but decided against taking part in the pre-draft process to focus on training for the London Olympics, specifically the 100m and 4x100m relay team. While Demps failed to qualify for the Olympics in the 100m, he finished 7th with a time of 10.27 seconds, he did go to London as a member of the 4×100 relay team.
In London, Demps ran the first leg of the 4×100 qualifying heat in which the United States won with a time of 37.38 and sent them into the finals. Demps did not take part in the finals, but received a Silver Medal for the qualifying effort. Once the Olympics ended, Demps’ agent sent word to the NFL and NFL teams that he wanted to play in the NFL this year.
As many as 20 NFL teams had interest in Jeff Demps, but it appears that the two finalists were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Patriots, with whom he worked out for on Thursday. The Patriots need for a kick returner and being a Super Bowl contender likely put the Patriots over the top. Demps will join Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez and Jermaine Cunningham as members of the Florida National Championship team that are now on the Patriots roster.
The Patriots failed to address the kick return unit in the off-season and during the preseason have used a variety of different players in that role, none of whom have showed much improvement. Demps will likely impact the Patriots kick return unit immediately. While he didn’t do a whole lot of kick returning at Florida he did average 28.7 yards on his 21 kick returns.
Aside from his special teams role, it’s likely Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels has a specfic role in mind for Demps. He will give the Patriots offense a dynamic “gadget” back similar to what Dexter McCluster does for the Kansas City Chiefs. In his college career Demps averaged 7.04 yards per carry and broke off numerous big plays both in the run game and the passing game. Demps is not an everydown player but, expect to see him used in certain situations. When he is in the game Demps can line up all over the formation as the Patriots try to create a mismatch with his world class speed. The Patriots love to create mismatches and Demps’ speed is nearly impossible to match up against or game plan for.
How big of an impact will Demps make this year? Only time will tell, but he sure does offer a better alternative at kick returner than what the Patriots have been deploying the past year and a half.
Stay tuned to NEPD for more Jeff Demps news throughout the day.