Throughout his NFL career, newly-signed free agent for the San Diego Chargers LeRon McClain has been used in a variety of ways.
McClain is most often referred to as a fullback, but unlike a Tony Richardson or Vonta Leach, he excels as an all-around contributor like a Leonard Weaver.
In all likelihood, the Chargers have brought in McClain to fill the Mike Tolbert role in the offense. Tolbert was an important piece for the Chargers last year prior to becoming a free agent this offseason. Leaving San Diego, McClain leaves the team with a void in the backfield, which requires a specific skill set to replace.
Last season, Tolbert had 490 yards rushing with eight touchdowns on the ground. He also had 54 receptions for over 400 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Throw into the mix his above-average blocking and ball security, and Tolbert was a jack of all trades for the Chargers last year, somewhat filling the Darren Sproles role.
McClain has the capabilities to be that player for the Chargers despite not always being used that way by his previous teams.
In 2008, McClain had over 900 yards rushing on 232 carries with an incredible 10 touchdowns for the Baltimore Ravens. Because of the emergence of Ray Rice in Maryland, McClain was reduced to a blocking role for the most part for the Ravens, so he only managed less than 300 yards rushing in the next two seasons combined.
He still remained a very competent run-blocker and pass-blocker, though, filling both the fullback and third-down back roles.
In three of his seasons Baltimore, McClain had at least 19 receptions each year for over 120 yards. McClain's agility, size and awareness means that his only limitations are the created by the opportunities, or lack thereof, that are presented to him.
Opportunities shouldn't be an issue in San Diego, as the Chargers don't generally rely on a typical fullback in their offense.
Even though Ryan Mathews is unquestionably the feature back in San Diego after last season, the term feature back doesn't mean the same thing that it once did. These days, the closest thing to an actual feature back resides in Jacksonville, where Maurice Jones-Drew receives every carry he can possibly take.
Everywhere else however, teams are using multiple backs with one primary back, as opposed to a feature back. The emergence of specialists—such as short-yardage/goal-line backs, third-down backs and simply backup backs who are used in rotation or for a change of pace—has reduced the role of the starting running back and turned the position into a committee of bodies.
LeRon McClain's talents are such that he can play any of the listed running back roles. Even though some teams never asked him to carry out all of those roles, it does not mean he is not capable doing so. The Chargers should ask him to do a lot for the team after committing to him for three years.
He will spend time as a blocking fullback, but should also feature heavily as a third-down back and goal-line runner. He and Ryan Mathews, with potentially a sprinkle of Curtis Brinkley or a new rookie, should give the Chargers one of the best running back groups in the NFL.
Although, the offensive line will need to be further addressed if they are to have any real impact.