Last Sunday against the Vikings, Patriots fullback James Develin was in the spotlight. The Patriots were once again at the goalline and struggling to punch it in for the touchdown throughout the game, but not when they handed it to James Develin.
The Patriots ran four plays from inside the 2-yard line against Minnesota. First, Sony Michel got a chance to punch it in from the 1-yard line, but got stopped for no gain. On a different series, Brady tried to pass to Edelman with one yard to go, but it was incomplete and the Patriots had to settle for a first goal. The Patriots only had two successful plays in the game in goal to go situations and both were via James Develin.
Develin scored the Patriots only redzone touchdowns of the day, finishing with 2 TDs and 5 yards in the game. Develin, who's been heavily utilized as a blocker for Sony Michel this season, was instead utilized for his skill as a runner and he delivered. With the success Develin had on Sunday, should he be the Patriots new go-to short yardage back?
The Patriots other running back options certainly haven't had as much success in goal-to-go situations as Develin. Sony Michel, James White, Kenjon Barner and even Cordarrelle Patterson have all gotten chances to be the Patriots goalline back this season and they've all failed. The trio of running backs and 'the experiment' have combined for 18 carries inside the 5-yard line this season and have totalled just 12 yards (0.67 YPC) and 5 touchdowns (TD%: 27.7%). Meanwhile, Develin has been perfect in his 3 opportunities from the same spot with 4 yards (1.33 YPC) and 3 touchdowns (TD%: 100%). Sony Michel has been the Patriots most utilized back in those goalline situations and his 3 touchdowns on 11 attempts left a lot to be desired. Of the 7 players in the NFL with at least 10 carries inside the five this season, Michel ranks dead last in touchdowns:
Rob Gronkowski having 0 redzone touchdowns this season hasn't helped the Patriots in that area of the field either and as a result Develin has suddenly become the Patriots only reliable option with five or less yards to go. The Patriots goalline back was supposed to be Jeremy Hill, who had scored 29 touchdowns in his first three seasons in the NFL with the Bengals. Unfortunately, Hill went down for the entire season with a torn ACL after a very encouraging performance in week one. The Patriots have been searching for answers ever since and as good as Sony Michel has been, he's not a goalline back. Even in college, Georgia teammate Nick Chubb was the one who took the goal to go carries, not Michel.
This is Develin's sixth season with the Patriots, excluding the 2015 season which he missed with injury. Develin only had 2 career touchdowns in the regular season and postseason in his previous five seasons with the team, and one of them was a receiving touchdown, but he was still a Pro Bowler last season for his blocking prowess. As desperate times come calling for a Patriots offense looking to become more consistent, they may be finally ready to utilize their fullback the old fashioned way.
The question is whether or not the Patriots view Develin as a long-term answer as it pertains to this season. Would they be willing to feature Develin as the primary goalline running back for the rest of the season after barely using him as a rusher since he joined the team in 2012? Ultimately, the Patriots will have to pick between two things they love above all else in goal-to-go situations: efficiency and tendencies. The Patriots love variation and being unpredictable, thus skewing their tendency numbers and making their goalline offense hard for teams to prepare for. Giving Develin the ball every time would be the antithesis of everything they usually like to do in those situations. On the other hand, Develin has been incredibly efficient in his three opportunities and if he can keep punching it in at this rate, the Patriots would be stupid not to go to him in more often.
Nevertheless, the Patriots love mixing it up and in all likelihood they will continue to run a variety of different plays inside the five, but while Develin may not be consistent option, he's the Patriots best option. When the Pats need the yardage the most on the goalline, whether that’s in the playoffs or sometime down the stretch, the man to go to will be James Develin.
Photo: (Elise Amendola - AP Photo)