At this time last year, defensive end Justin Francis was regarded as a long shot to make the New England Patriots’ 53-man roster. But Francis, an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, won over Bill Belichick and the entire coaching staff with his commendable work ethic in OTA’s and training camp.
Francis was able to leapfrog Jake Bequette and Jermaine Cunningham on the defensive-end depth chart by the end of last season. Francis played exceptionally well in the final games of the season as injuries stacked up on the defensive unit. Francis’ best game came in Week 17 as he recorded three tackles and three sacks.
By attaining three sacks in the final game of the season, Francis finished tied for fourth most-sacks on the team, demonstrating the Patriots’ ineptitude at attacking the quarterback in 2012. Francis has above-average pass-rushing abilities and that will certainly play a factor in an increased role in 2013 as the Patriots’ look to pursue the quarterback with more vindication this year.
Francis has made a solid impression in the early stages of this year’s OTA’s. If he continues to prove his worth as a talented push-rusher, he will see much more playing time this upcoming season. He is slated to be the back-up defensive end, behind Chandler Jones. Jones had a tremendous rookie season as a full-time starter, recording 45 tackles and six sacks, to go along with three forced fumbles.
The Patriots have a strong young core at on the defensive line. With Francis’ ability to succeed in the dime and nickel packages, the Patriots will have major flexibility with player rotations. If 2012 gave any indication, Francis will critique his defensive craft more and more each season as he looks to become an integral part of the Patriots’ defense for years to come.