5 Teams That Make the Most of Fullbacks in Today's National Football League
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They aren't in it for the glory. They don't get the big bucks. They often get forgotten and ignored in a post-game locker room.
Yet when properly utilized, a fullback can be an offense's best friend.
It's just about a lost art, though, and few teams bother to pay much attention to the position beyond "we have one." A lot of teams will use a extra tight end rather than a fullback, and few are the teams that use the fullback heavily.
The best fullbacks make everyone around them a bit better. Guys like Tony Richardson and Michael Robinson can make life so much easier for their quarterbacks and running backs.
Their fellow players know it too.
"You get different looks. Are you asking me do I like it? Yeah, I like it. It's really my first time playing with a fullback in my career. At LSU we kind of did what we did here, a tight end played fullback or whatever. I think it will be a good look for us," Colts running back Joseph Addai said about the team using fullbacks Jerome Felton and Ryan Mahaffey in the second half of the season.
The Colts didn't really use their fullbacks all that well and, as the article points out, it took them too long to even try in the first place.
Other teams get it, though, and the following are the five teams that use their fullbacks to their full potential.
New York Jets
John Conner: They call him The Terminator for the big hits and physical play. Put aside the fact that, as any nerd worth his salt knows, Conner was the hero, not the Terminator. This guy hits and hits hard. Has from day one.
Problem was, he didn't do much else in his rookie year—and really didn't even do the hitting part that well either. However, a year under the mentoring of Tony Richardson and Conner emerged a far more complete and reliable player.
The Jets ask several things of Conner.
They use him both as a last-ditch blocker to protect quarterback Mark Sanchez, sometimes having him chip an incoming defender, sometimes requiring him to stone the guy completely. They also have him lead block on occasion, opening holes and clearing traffic for Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson and Joe McKnight.
Sometimes he gets to carry the ball as well, and on occasion they'll even throw the ball his way.
Conner is becoming a versatile tool in the Jets backfield, and as he matures as a player, they will continue to find ways to involve him in the offense.
Green Bay Packers
John Kuhn: Whenever this guy touches the ball, Lambeau erupts into shouts of "Kuuuuuuuuuuuhn."
Rightfully so, as Kuhn runs the ball pretty well and often bowls over someone on his way down the field.
He's more than just an emergency running back, though—Kuhn is a top-shelf blocker and has been key in helping Aaron Rodgers stay upright when injuries hit the offensive line.
The advantage to having Kuhn in the backfield—since he is a threat to run the ball—is that his presence doesn't tip the offense's hand. He could run the ball or he could be in there to block. So just because he's back there and no running back is doesn't mean the Packers are throwing.
Being able to throw doubt into the defense's mind is a huge advantage for an offense and another reason why, if you use the fullback position correctly, you're helping yourself out in a big way.
Marcel Reece: Reece has been a guy most fans didn't know about, at least until Darren McFadden went down with yet another in a seemingly never-ending line of injuries.
Interesting Reece tidbit: Reece originally came into the league as a—wait for it—wide receiver.
He caught on with the Raiders as a street free agent, but as a fullback, and while it took him a while to really click there, he really came into his own in 2010. Reece was instrumental in blowing open holes for McFadden and Mike Bush.
Reece's blocking has come a long way and while he's better as a lead blocker, he can keep a quarterback upright as well.
This past season, Reece had a more consistent role in the offense as well, running the ball on occasion (due to the aforementioned McFadden injury) and catching the ball a fair piece. That's where the unique path Reece took to the fullback position comes into play—as an ex-wide receiver, you know he can catch.
The Raiders are still putting together their offensive personality and with a new coach and new GM, things are bound to change.
I'm positive that whatever happens, they'll find a spot for Reece.
San Diego Chargers
Mike Tolbert/Jacob Hester: The odd thing about the Chargers is that their fullbacks sometimes jump ship and become full on running backs.
Take Mike Tolbert for example. Tolbert started out as a running back who fit better as a fullback but then shifted back to running back when 2011 rookie Ryan Mathews got banged up. Tolbert stayed on primarily as a running back, though he could line up and block as a fullback when required.
His skill set made it possible for him to make the leap, as did the presence of Jacob Hester, a guy who at one point people thought might make the leap to running back instead of Tolbert.
Hester's skills are more limited, though, and he's better as a blocker than anything else. The Chargers rely on their fullbacks to pick up the defenders that their shaky offensive line cannot contain. Like most of the rest of the teams on this list, that's not all they use their fullbacks for.
The Chargers will use their fullbacks a bit to run the ball out of the fullback position, but also shift them to running back when they have need and on occasion to run the ball in short yardage situations.
It will be interesting to see what the Chargers do next year, as Tolbert might leave in free agency and, as I said, Hester isn't quite as effective at the fullback position and lacks the skills to be utilized as a running back/fullback hybrid as Tolbert was.
The Chargers are the team most likely to drop off this list by the end of next season, though they have found running backs and fullbacks in odd spots before.
Michael Robinson: The Seahawks don't use their fullbacks quite as completely as some of the others on this list, but in part that's because the offensive line was marred by injury and some underwhelming play. So Robinson was stuck in blocking a bunch.
That said, you don't get to the Pro Bowl by accident and Robinson—whom I've been a fan of since his 49ers days—was tremendously effective paving the way for Marshawn Lynch's 1,200-plus-yard season and on occasion racking up some nice yards himself (such as his four-catch, 41-yard performance against the Philadelphia Eagles).
If the line can get healthy and play more consistently (one will help the other become a reality), Robinson will be freed up to do more than just lead the way for Lynch.
The Seahawks will likely re-sign him this offseason and that's a vital move. You often don't know what you have until it's gone, and the offense as a whole would miss Robinson's fierce attitude and drive.
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