Monday, August 7, 2017

Lucien Turning Heads At Camp, But Does It Translate To A Roster Spot?

Devin Lucien left UCLA for Arizona State because he wasn't getting enough playing time to attract the attention of NFL Scouts - and while that turned out to be a fortuitous decision on his part with the resultant notice having been received, now Lucien may be attracting too much attention...

Which is going to make life difficult for the New England Patriots, though in this particular context, it's a "high class problem" to have, as team owner Bob Kraft would say.

With bumps and bruises taking their tool on the Patriots' receiving corps, Lucien is making the most of the increase in targets that he's receiving in training camp, consistently squaring up in his route progressions, making the tough - and oftentimes spectacular catch - and generally just being available, which is high on head ball coach Bill Belichick's list of positive attributes as a player.

Perhaps having one of the more impressive camps thus far, along with names like Brandin Cooks, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Garcia on offense, the 6' 2", 200 pounder has put himself squarely in the sites of the powers that be, and if his impressive play spills over onto the field in preseason, he will make cutdown day less than a month from now very interesting...

...interesting in that he has forced his way into the conversation for a position on the depth chart that was previously pretty much cut-and-dried, with an impressive list of the speedy Cooks, tall boundary guys in Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell and the tough as nails garden gnomes in Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola - not to mention the plethora of other pass catching options on a stacked roster.

So, the Patriots don't need Lucien, but if they cut him and expose him to waivers, you can bet the farm that he's gained enough attention around the league that someone is going to give him his shot at a regular season roster, and the chances of him reverting to the practice squad are slim-to-none.

Of course, there's still plenty of camp left, and even though they've had seven padded practices with some heavy contact and a few hurt feels, it's safe to say Lucien has piqued the interest of the media, but what about the coaching staff?

"He knows the offense better." Belichick said, tongue partially buried in cheek and just before he went on his first real Belichickian screed of the season about the media being better talent evaluators then he, but did manage to finish his thought on Lucien before getting all worked into a froth...

..."he knows the techniques better, has trained, is in good shape, is stronger, faster, quicker , more explosive. He's definitely headed in the right direction."  And that was before the pads went on - since, he has been all of that, and more, as he keeps showing and announcing his intentions with his solid camp.

So at the risk of putting the cart in front of the horse as far as Lucien's position with the team - not to mention the incredibly deep roster that already exists - how would Bill Belichick find room for him?

If it came down to breaking through against one of the receivers, Lucien would be in trouble because the position is just too talented and too deep to drop anyone on the list - with Hogan, Cooks and Mitchell a young and talented trio on the outside and Edelman and Amendola as clutch as any receivers in the league, the only listed receiver who doesn't contribute offensively is special teams ace Matthew Slater, and barring injury, he is likely to remain the Patriots sixth option...

...though the ten-year veteran has shown some wear and tear in the recent past and is currently on the shelf with an undisclosed injury and missed three games late last season with a stinger and some lower leg issues.  It was reported that Slater spent some time in the medical tent last Thursday, emerged walking very gingerly and hasn't been seen since.

If the six-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time first-team All Pro gunner is indeed dealing with the same lower leg injury that he suffered last season, it would be a huge blow to the special teams, but also a hand engraved roster invitation not only for Lucien, but for a bevy of bubble boys that also have special teams ability.

All of that said, even if Lucien were to make the roster, how many targets would he see in such a stacked depth chart, and how many games would he even suit up for, given that every team has to declare seven players inactive each week in order to get down to the 45 player game-day limit?

Again, those are horses being put in front of the cart - but Lucien has lived through those kinds of things, hauling in just 49 passes in three years at UCLA before becoming a graduate transfer to Arizona State, where he easily surpassed his career total to that point and putting himself on NFL scouts' radars...

...turning down offers from nine different schools to play just that one season to stay close to home - and now that's he's proving to be competitive on a depth chart that no one has a realistic chance of broaching, it could be the UCLA/Arizona State thing all over again, only this time he wouldn't have a choice, he'd have to go to whatever team poached him off of the waiver wire.

And someone will, because being a tough cut of the defending Super Bowl Champions with a veteran roster loaded for bear means only that they just couldn't find room for a 6' 2" youngster with tremendous upside - a "high class problem", and one that becomes a boon for another team...

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