The New England Patriots have no shortage of big-name players on their offense. They have the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady paired with the remarkably reliable Julian Edelman. Additionally, the Patriots boast an impressive backfield led by rookie Sony Michel and pass-catching specialist James White. However, there’s another back in New England who will have a big role on Sunday. Fullback James Develin is one of New England’s most important players in the run game and is set to have a huge performance in the AFC Championship.
James Develin Crucial to Patriots Super Bowl Hopes
The Patriots run more two-back sets than just about any team in the National Football League. Per Sharp Football Stats, only the San Francisco 49ers spent more time in “21” personnel than the Patriots. 21 personnel means that the offense has two running backs, one tight end, and two wide receivers on the field. There was a reason for this high usage, as New England could basically run or throw at will from two-back sets.
As expected, the Patriots had a high rushing success rate from 21 personnel (48%). This makes sense, as the formation is naturally favorable to running the ball. What’s more surprising is New England’s 54% success rate when throwing from 21. Both rates were above league average, making this arguably New England’s best personnel grouping on the season.
Develin was typically the second back in 21 personnel, as the sixth-year Patriot played in 35% of the offensive snaps. In a league where fullbacks are generally being replaced, Develin continues to see the field. There weren’t many better than Develin, as he finished the year ranked as the fourth-best fullback in the league, per Pro Football Focus. This wasn’t a one-year fluke, as Develin finished as a top-four fullback in each of his last four healthy seasons.
While he’s primarily used as a blocker, Develin was surprisingly effective at carrying the football. Develin finished the season with eight yards and four touchdowns on six carries. While those numbers don’t just off the page, his advanced stats tell a different story.
New England used Develin exclusively in short-yardage situations, and he got the job done almost every time. Per Sharp Football Stats, Develin finished the year with an 87.5% success rate on his carries. New England struggled all season long in short-yardage running situations, but the Patriots could always turn to Develin to pick up those difficult yards.
Why Develin Matters Against the Chiefs
James Develin’s skill set perfectly aligns with everything the Chiefs struggle to stop on defense. Kansas City’s defense is pretty underwhelming overall, but they’re especially bad against 21 personnel. Kansas City allows a 59% success rate against passes from 21, a rate well above league average. Additionally, the Chiefs defense allows a league-worst 67% success rate on runs out of 21 personnel. Football Outsiders backs up this metric, as Kansas City ranks dead last at defending the run. Kansas City can’t stop two running back sets, and the Patriots send out two running backs more than just about any team in the league.
Develin might not get many carries, but he should get some of the more important ones. It came in a small sample, but Develin was easily the Patriots most effective short-yardage runner. Kansas City, as one would expect, was one of the worst defenses at defending short-yardage runs. Per Sharp Football Stats, the Chiefs allowed an 83% success rate on runs with three or fewer yards to go. Develin should get a carry or two in a crucial situation, and he’ll probably get the first down when called upon.
Develin will still play a big role even if he doesn’t record a single carry. In their previous meeting, Sony Michel converted six of his eight short-yardage attempts into first downs. That success rate wouldn’t have been possible without Develin on the field as a lead blocker.
If New England is going to advance to their third consecutive Super Bowl, they’ll need to attack the Chiefs defense at their weakest point. Kansas City simply cannot defend the run, especially against 21 personnel. The Patriots run 21 personnel more than just about anyone, and James Develin is one of the best fullbacks in the league. Develin is capable of eating up potential tacklers as a blocker and picking up difficult yards in short-yardage situations. He might not be the most high-profile member of the team, but Develin’s play will go a long way in determining who gets to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
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