While at Rutgers, Ryan D'Imperio was a team captain, a linebacker on Greg Schiano's Scarlet Knights defense and a starter on special teams. He finished his career with 185 tackles and seven sacks, playing in 24 of his final 25 college games.
At 6'2" and 241 lbs., he displayed 4.68 speed in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. His numbers caught the interest of the Vikings, who took D'Imperio with the expressed interest of moving him to the offense as a blocker for Adrian Peterson.
So, when he was drafted in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings (237th overall), D'Imperio traded all of those college labels for that of NFL hopeful, who would need to learn a new position—fullback.
But the transition came slower than anyone had hoped, and D'Imperio spent all of 2010 on the practice squad.
In 2011, a need for a true fullback arose for the Vikings, who had previously been using tight end Jim Kleinsasser in a dual role when necessary. On October 4, 2011, D'Imperio was given his chance, and was signed onto the Vikings' 53-man roster as a fullback.
"I played it in high school," said D'Imperio in a conference call when he was promoted from the practice squad as the team's fullback. "I didn't play it in college. It’s all about collision, blocking. It’s the same whether you’re on offense or defense, you just don’t have the ball in your hands."
While he made some strides during the 2011 season, scouting services such as The Sports Xchange still graded him as "far from being a polished blocker. He's average, at best."
That slow progress may be the reason the Vikings have chosen to explore other options at the fullback position in 2012 that will give some competition to D'Imperio.
Minnesota utilized its fourth-round pick this year to reach for Rhett Ellison out of USC (who appears to be the heir apparent to the retired Kleinsasser), a rookie who can play both tight end and fullback.
At 6'5" and 251 lbs he's bigger than D'Imperio, and unless the Vikings choose to make him a full-time tight end, it could spell trouble for the former Rutgers linebacker.
The Vikings are also giving Jerome Felton a try at FB this year after the veteran spent 2011 with the Panthers" href="http://bleacherreport.com/carolina-panthers">Carolina Panthers. Felton is something of a journeyman who recently ran afoul of the law in early June with a "suspicion of" DWI arrest when he refused to submit to a chemical test. Felton has previously been with Indianapolis and Detroit.
Perhaps D'Imperio's real competition may come from fullback Matt Asiata out of Utah. Asiata was undrafted and had a brief stint in the UFL before signing with the Vikings. Like D'Imperio, he earned his stripes on the practice squad and was signed to the main roster in January, 2012.
It has also been speculated that recent free-agent acquisition Lex Hilliard could be utilized in the fullback role, according to a report by the Star Tribune. The former Dolphins running back is on the smaller side at 5'11" and 240 lbs, and seems the least likely candidate to win the starting fullback job.