The New England Patriots’ run game – shaky through the first three weeks of the season – will now have to find its footing without fullback James Develin.
According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the New England Patriots placed fullback James Develin on injured reserve Monday with a neck injury. Develin reportedly sustained the injury in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins, and because of it was forced to miss the Patriots’ Week 3 victory over the New York Jets as well.
It’s the latest setback for the defending world champions, who have still outscored their opposition 106-17 through three weeks of the regular season. And while the Patriots might have their best defense in at least 15 years – if not their best defense ever under Bill Belichick – the team has been hit hard by the injury bug in 2019.
Already down starting center David Andrews for the year, the Patriots also sent first-round picks N’Keal Harry (wide receiver) and Isaiah Wynn (left tackle) to IR earlier this season. The team is only allowed to bring back two of the three players, so Belichick will have to decide between Develin, Harry, and Wynn at some point in the future.
Furthermore, the team saw wideouts Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon both miss time during Sunday’s win over New York. Gordon eventually returned to the lineup, but Edelman sat out the entire second half… leaving his status up in the air for a Week 4 tilt against the undefeated Buffalo Bills.
As a result of Develin’s injury, the Patriots promoted fullback Jakob Johnson from the practice squad on Saturday. He only saw a handful of snaps on special teams against the Jets, but his role is likely to grow now that Develin is officially on IR. For what it’s worth, Belichick called Johnson’s journey in finding his way from Germany all the way to New England’s active roster “remarkable,” per ProFootballTalk’s Josh Alper.
Even if Johnson steps up and plays admirably as an emergency fill-in though, the loss of Develin looms large for the Patriots… particularly in the run game.
Savvy fans and longtime followers of New England’s offense will remember that Develin is about as key to the team’s rushing attack as any other player on the roster. It’s historically been Develin who has helped to spring wide-open run lanes for halfbacks like Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead.
Michel, specifically, stands to lose out the most in Develin’s absence. Already struggling to get much of anything going in his second season, the former Georgia Bulldog now will have to find a way to get his feet back under him without the benefit of Develin’s masterful lead-blocking and bulldozing techniques.
Through three games of action, Michel has just 108 rush yards on 45 attempts. Those numbers translate to a paltry 2.4 yards per carry, and that average could theoretically get much worse in the absence of Develin.
Granted, overcoming significant injuries is nothing new for the Patriots. They, like most NFL teams, preach a “next man up” mentality, and the smart money is still on Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels finding creative solutions to overcoming Develin’s ill-timed departure.
Nevertheless, the Patriots figure to have even tougher sledding ahead without their veteran fullback in the mix, as they continue to try and figure out why their run game is so ineffective after such a strong showing to close out last season.