New England Patriots Kick-Off in 86 Days: Profiling No. 86 A.J. Derby


Opening day countdowns are great. So are player profiles. Here at Musket Fire, we decided to combine them and create a Week 1 countdown-oriented, jersey number-dictated player profile series. Yesterday, we looked at No. 87 Rob Gronkowski, and a few days before him it was No. 88 Scott Chandler. Because today marks 86 days until the New England Patriots open 2015, we are profiling No. 86, rookie A.J. Derby.

Taken by the Patriots with the 202nd overall pick in last month’s draft, Derby is a fascinating player. He has only one year of formal experience at tight end, but his proven after-the-catch ability was enough to draw the Pats’ interest.

The second Arkansas player drafted by the Patriots this spring after Trey Flowers, Derby also offers Bill Belichick’s favorite trait: versatility. With experience as a quarterback and a linebacker, Derby strengthens his case to make the team.

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Perhaps no other Patriots’ draft pick this year has taken such a long-winded road to Foxboro. Derby began his college career at Iowa, but transferred to Coffeyville Community College before becoming a Razorback. As a tight end in his senior year, Derby reeled in 22 passes for 303 yards and three scores, highlighted by a 54-yard touchdown grab.

As seen in a nice piece on by Christopher Price, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema raves about Derby, comparing him to Dallas Clark, who he previously coached. According to Bielema, no team suits Derby better than the Patriots.

In addition to versatility, Bielema contends that Derby brings outstanding football IQ to the table. There’s yet another thing going for Derby as he tries to make the team in camp.

However, that will be a tall order. Even though Tim Wright was taken out of the picture last week, the depth chart at tight end is still crowded. Derby will be competing against veterans Fred Davis and Michael Hoomanawanui for the final spot (maybe two spots) on the roster.

But at least Bill Belichick knows Derby’s old man.

In other Twitter news, it looks like Derby just hit the practice field for the first time last week.

Considering the wealth of desirable traits Derby offers, and his athleticism to boot, it would be surprising if he doesn’t at least make the practice squad. There’s nothing wrong with a redshirt year for a promising Patriots rookie. Just look at Shane Vereen’s path to stardom.

In case you missed them, here are the profiles for No. 91 Jamie Collins, No. 92 Malcom Brown, No. 93 Jabaal Sheard, No. 94 Chris jones and No. 95 Chandler Jones.

Check back on Musket Fire tomorrow morning as we celebrate 85 days until Patriots kick-off by profiling another Arkansas product, No. 85, Jake Bequette.