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Before James Develin began burying linebackers for the New England Patriots, he hunted quarterbacks. A defensive lineman by trade, Develin’s journey to the NFL included stops in the Arena League as well as the United Football League. The former Brown University standout never gave up on his NFL dreams. And once he fully embraced a position switch to fullback, the neck-roll extraordinaire developed into a pivotal player for Bill Belichick.

Though a neck injury forced him to retire on Monday, James Develin walks away from football with three Super Bowl rings, $7.1 million in career earnings, and widespread respect from Patriots teammates and fans.

James Develin took a unique path to the NFL

Many successful players have overcome obstacles in their path to the NFL. Tom Brady transformed from the 199th overall pick to the greatest quarterback of all time. Joe Burrow never got an opportunity at Ohio State before parlaying a record-setting 2019 season at LSU into the No. 1 overall draft selection. For James Develin, his football journey stands out as one of perseverance and adaptability. After all, you don’t carve out a key role as a fullback in today’s game without some special qualities.

Develin played his college ball at Brown University. He racked up 15 sacks and 149 tackles in his four-year career. However, after a brief stint with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz of the Arena Football League, he latched on with the Florida Tuskers of the since-defunct United Football League. Fortunately for Develin, his head coach, Jay Gruden, transitioned the defensive lineman to fullback. That decision paid dividends years later.

Patriots fullback played a key role in three Super Bowl titles

After spending time with the Cincinnati Bengals as a member of their practice squad, James Develin finally got his big break when the Patriots signed them to their own practice squad in September 2012. As was the case in his other football experiences, it wasn’t smooth sailing for the bulldozing fullback. Develin actually got cut during training camp in 2013 before the Patriots re-signed him just before the season-opener.

Finally, the fullback became a permanent staple of New England’s offense. From 2013-2018, Develin didn’t miss a single game other than the 2015 season when he broke his tibia in training camp. Though he rarely touched the ball, he made the most of limited opportunities. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder scored five touchdowns on 15 career carries while adding a touchdown reception in 14 postseason games. More importantly, Develin played a pivotal role as the lead blocker for a number of quality running backs. The 2017 Pro Bowler paved the way for Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and Sony Michel over the years.

In a league that has all but eliminated the fullback position, Develin remained a key cog for one of the NFL’s best offenses. New England won three Super Bowls with Develin as its lead blocker and occasional backfield weapon. During their 2018 Super Bowl run, the Patriots ran for 155 yards against the Chargers, 176 yards against the Chiefs and 154 yards against the Rams. Oh, they totaled nine rushing touchdowns with Develin leading the way.

Develin retired Monday with $7.1 million career earnings

As one of the toughest players on the Patriots’ roster, Develin’s body took a pounding. New England’s offense suffered a major blow in just the second game of the 2019 season when the hard-nosed fullback suffered a season-ending neck injury. Unfortunately, the 31-year-old announced his retirement on Monday as a result of complications from that neck injury.

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Despite an abrupt ending to his career, James Develin managed to not only win three Super Bowl rings but also make $7.176 million for putting his body on the line. According to Over the Cap, he earned just $122,900 from the Bengals before developing into a valuable commodity with the Patriots. In 2017, New England rewarded Develin with a two-year, $2.45 million contract that included $500,000 guaranteed. One year and one Pro Bowl selection later, the fullback earned a two-year, $3.6 million deal that included $600,000 guaranteed. In total, James Develin earned just north of $7.1 million in the NFL by switching positions while earning the respect of Patriots coaches, teammates and fans.