New England Patriots: Fullback Free Agency Preview

Dec 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots fullback James Develin (46) fields a reception in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 18, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots fullback James Develin (46) fields a reception in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The fullback position might be a dying breed in the NFL, but the New England Patriots still value the position. Here’s their free agency preview.

The 3rd positional grouping we will be looking at in free agency is the fullback position. This preview will look into the available Free Agents and short list players that may fit the Patriots scheme.

As stated in the other previews, (which you can view by clicking the following links; Quarterback & Running Back) we aren’t taking into account the upcoming draft. Basically we are answering the question “If the Patriots could only fill their roster with Free Agents, who would they be?”

Full Backs under contract

  • Glenn Gronkowski

Full Backs not under contract

  • James Develin (re-sign)

Although James Develin doesn’t carry the ball that often, he is an outstanding blocker and a leader in the Patriots locker room. In this quote direct from Bill Belichick (courtesy of he explains Develin’s value to the team:

"“He does a real good job of making those decisions of doing the right thing, making the smart decision. Similar to a quarterback following his reads or progression that if something happens and you have to make an alternative decision based on the circumstances of that play then that’s what he has to do. I’d say he does a good job of that but I mean he’s a very smart guy.”"

I would very much doubt it would cost much to keep Develin in Foxborough and with two Super Bowl victories, he should be happy enough to re-sign.

As reported on 3/3 by Jason La Canfora, he looks set to stay with the Patriots:

Glenn Gronkowski spent a decent amount of time both on and off the Practice Squad in 2016 and was signed to a futures contract for the 2017 season. “Mini-Gronk” is seen as nothing more than a practice player and will likely be on the Practice Squad again next season. This was emphasized by the fact that he signed his contract a full seven days after the Patriots signed nine other players to futures deals.

With the predicted re-signing of Develin, I don’t foresee any other fullbacks being signed but if he isn’t, then it should be one of the guys from the list below: 

Free Agent Full Backs

  • Jerome Felton

    • Felton might be 31-years-old by the time the new season starts, but fullbacks, unlike their running back counterparts can play effectively into their mid-30’s. An All-Pro in 2012 he was a big factor in Adrian Peterson’s 2,097-yard rushing season in the same year. Felton has nearly as many career receptions (50) as he does rushing attempts (55). This is a dynamic that fits in well with how the Patriots like to use their fullbacks.
  • Zach Line

    • Another Vikings alum, Line is quite small for a fullback at 6ft and 234lbs. Like Felton, he was part of another Adrian Peterson monster rushing season, this time in 2015 when Peterson returned from his suspension. His career has progressed from undrafted free agent to a regular starter for the Vikings in four years. Similar to Felton he has a good catching ability and has a 49-yard reception in the regular season and a 61-yard effort in the 2013 preseason. After coming off two good seasons and entering the prime of his career, he might be commanding a bit more money than the veteran minimum that a lot of fullbacks player for.
  • Will Tukuafu

    • There are very few iron men left in football. Whilst Will Tukuafu might not be one in the truest sense of the word, the fact of the matter is he has played both defensive tackle and fullback in the NFL. To add to this he is an excellent special teams player, this versatility usually piques Bill Belichick’s interest. When Marcel Reece became available during the season, the Patriots passed on him and he consequently signed for the Seahawks after Tukuafu was injured with a concussion. This will probably mean he won’t be retained by the Seahawks as Reece is the superior player. Even if he doesn’t play a down at fullback for the Patriots in the future, he could end up here to be used on special teams.


Fullback is always a tricky position to predict when it comes to roster moves. Some teams don’t carry them on the roster at all and the ones that do, have another player that can fill in when required. This makes the position itself tenuous at best. I think that Develin gets re-signed by New England and that Glenn Gronkowski stays on the practice squad. If Develin gets injured in camp, Jerome Felton represents the best pure fullback value on the open market.