NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
James Develin has come a long way since being an undrafted defensive lineman out of Brown in 2010.
He’s played indoors for the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz of the Arena Football League’s af2. He’s suited up for the Florida Tuskers in the now-defunct United Football League. And it wasn’t until there was four games left in the 2010 season that the 6’3”, 255-pounder got his NFL shot.
It was then that the Cincinnati Bengals signed him to the practice squad.
He stayed there until the conclusion of the 2011 campaign. During the roster cutdowns in August of 2012, though, Develin was let go by the Bengals. He left having never played in a regular season game, yet the opportunity to play football hadn’t left him.
The New England Patriots signed the converted fullback to practice squad a day later. No. 46 was promoted to the 53-man roster, then he was demoted once again before getting the call-up in December.
He was inactive against the Miami Dolphins and then the Houston Texans as the regular season drew to a close. But he did make his NFL debut on special teams against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 16. Even so, none could have predicted just how much of a role Develin would play moving forward.
Few could have expected he would make the 53-man roster behind an assortment of running backs in 2013. He did more than that.
He played 16 games as a special-teamer, a lead blocker, an auxiliary tight end, a decoy wideout and even a ball-carrier. Along with his neck roll, Develin totaled 327 offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, caught four passes for 62 yards and took four short-yardage handoffs for 10 yards.
Those marked the first statistics of his NFL career. And when he scored his first NFL touchdown on a fourth-effort carry down at the goal line against the Texans, it was only a fitting milestone in his journey.
The 26-year-old’s journey has taken him from the Ivy League to the AFC East. It’s taken him from defense to offense. It’s taken him from 90-man fringe player to 46-man active player.
“It’s been a long road, but I’m just very, very appreciative of this organization for giving me the opportunity. And I’m thankful to be here,” Develin said after training camp practice at Gillette Stadium Sunday.
Develin is still in New England because of all the things he’s had to learn to do on the field.
That’s been part of his growth. It’s been part of his added value.
“The unique thing about James is – he’s a very versatile player,” said Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio before practice at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. “From day one to where he is now, he’s really improved.”
Develin’s rise in New England has been rooted in his experiences. It’s been rooted in the fact that he’s played for four teams in three professional football leagues. And he’s had job insecurity during every stop.
In a sense, that’s what has driven him this far. That’s what keeps him looking ahead.
“I like to think that, when you’re comfortable – it’s never good to be comfortable in football,” Develin said after the fourth day of Patriots training camp. “You’re always trying to learn, you’re always trying to just get better, each and every day.”