FOXBORO, Mass. — When Jermaine Cunningham was suspended for violating the NFL’s PED policy, the question of who would replace him up front immediately came square into view.
The four likely replacements along the defensive line were Trevor Scott, Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace and rookie Justin Francis. Obviously, if Chandler Jones can return to full health and work his way back onto the field none of this would be much of a concern. In the meantime, Scott seems to be the most likely proxy for Cunningham given his experience and success as a pass rusher with the Raiders. But don’t count Francis out of that mix just yet.
After signing on with the Patriots as an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers in April, Francis has made the most of every opportunity he’s been afforded. He went inactive for the Patriots’ first five games of the season, but has begun carving out a role for himself on defense as the season’s gone on.
Francis has been a solid special teams player all season, even getting aw...