New England Patriots: Danny Vitale opting out benefits these two players

New England Patriots Danny Vitale (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
New England Patriots Danny Vitale (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

With New England Patriots veteran fullback Danny Vitale set to opt out of the 2020 NFL season, these two players will have to step up at the fullback position.

One of the underrated free agent signings for the New England Patriots was the addition of veteran fullback Danny Vitale given the early retirement of James Develin.

Due to his decision to opt out of the 2020 season as confirmed by USA TODAY Sports Monday, fans will have to wait till 2021 to see Vitale in a Patriots’ uniform.

According to his agent, the fifth-year veteran has decided to opt out of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic due to Vitale and his wife being the proud parents to a newborn.  While the opt out is certainly understandable, it leaves a void in the Patriots backfield at the fullback position.

More from Chowder and Champions

In starting 15 games in 2019 during his time with the Green Bay Packers, Danny Vitale was the type of versatile asset who seemed primed to be a valuable piece of the offense in 2020 not only because of his blocking ability, but also his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.

That type of versatility made Vitale a perfect fit for a Patriots’ offense that utilizes the fullback position.  During his introductory press conference, the veteran fullback noted that as a reason he signed the one-year deal with the team and also something that fueled his excitement.

"“There’s only a handful of teams that use fullbacks now these days,” Vitale said, via  “Seeing all the amazing things that James Develin did over the last couple years, that’s obviously enticing for a fullback.”"

The New England Patriots now turn to these two players at fullback

That one-year deal now tolled to the 2021 season due to the opt out.  This now opens the door even wider for two other players currently on the New England Patriots roster.

One of those players is Jakob Johnson, a bruising fullback who had a shot at filling the void left by the James Devlin injury in 2019 before suffering his own season-ending injury.

Just 25 years old, Johnson is currently signed on an international player exemption which does not count against the Patriots’ 53-man roster, which pretty much secured a spot on the roster even before Danny Vitale’s decision to opt out.

With an ability to also catch the ball out of the backfield, Jakob Johnson now becomes even more valuable at the fullback position if the team becomes a more ground attack oriented offense with either Cam Newton or Jarrett Stidham under center.

Another player expected to fill in at the fullback position is tight end Dalton Keene.

Selected in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft, the Virginia Tech product is expected to provide some offensive punch to the tight end position.  Given his versatility, he will also be a nice fit at the fullback position in more of a hybrid role similar to what Danny Vitale would’ve brought to the team in 2020.

Next. New England Patriots: How Cam Newton will lead to Tom Brady amnesia. dark

As with always the case with any Bill Belichick coached teams, players further down the depth chart will be expected to be the next guy up.  The New England Patriots also have some salary cap space to sign a free agent to come in and fill the void also.  For now, it looks like it is either Jacob Johnson or Dalton Keene’s job to lose.