For Belichick, Develin's winding road to Pro Bowl worthy of recognition

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FOXBORO -- Three of the Patriots who were named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday were pretty used to being recognized among the game's best at this time of year. One, however, was not. 

Call it a win for neck-roll enthusiasts everywhere: Fullback James Develin earned his first-career Pro Bowl nod for what he's done in 2017, joining teammates Tom Brady (13th Pro Bowl), Rob Gronkowski (fifth) and Matthew Slater (seventh) as honorees.

For the last two seasons, Develin has been heavily involved in the Patriots offense as a staple in their heavy formations. When it's time to pick up a first down in short-yardage, or when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wants to establish a running game by picking up hard-earned yards early in drives, Develin's usually out there. He has played in 30 percent of the team's offensive snaps this season and saw 31 percent of snaps last year. 

Develin's path to becoming seen as one of the NFL's best at his position has been a winding one. A defensive lineman at Brown University, his professional career began in Oklahoma City in the Arena Football League. He then moved onto the UFL, and eventually landed on the Bengals practice squad and started honing his craft on the offensive side of the ball.

In 2012, Develin signed with the Patriots practice squad. He saw game action toward the end of that season. He played in all 16 regular-season games the next two years but missed all of 2015 after he broke his leg in the preseason.

"I think it's great," Bill Belichick said on Wednesday when asked about the Pro Bowl recognition Develin had received. "Look, nobody has worked hard than James has. He started off on the practice squad, worked his way onto the roster, on and off as an active and inactive player. [He] has the last couple of years fallen into a very consistent and productive role in the kicking game and offensively.

"His play time has increased. His production has increased. As hard as he works in the weight room, on the field, off the field, preparation. I mean, whenever you see James, you see him working. You see him doing extras in the weight room. You see him doing extras on the practice field. You see him in early or late looking at film, going over things. He’s got a role. He’s very good at it. It’s a very important role and so it’s great to see him recognized for it. I'm happy for him. I'm happy for all of the guys that got recognized."

The Pro Bowl will be held on Jan. 28, a week before Super Bowl LII, in Orlando.

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