Leonard Weaver: Filling a Position for the Eagles I Never Knew Existed
This past Friday, the Eagles reached agreement on a one year, $1.75 million deal with free agent Leonard Weaver. According to sources from ESPN and NFL.com, Weaver's job last season with the Seahawks was as a fullback.
I never heard of the position.
In Philadelphia, the role of fullback in the offense has been unfamiliar to us as fans for several years now. From what I am told, the job description includes blocking for the team's halfback, catching the occasional short pass, and filling in as a short-yardage runner.
Last season, the team's starting fullback was a 295-pound converted defensive tackle named Dan Klecko who would have been better off...well, playing defensive tackle. It's probably unfair to blame Klecko for his season-long struggles because the transition from defensive tackle to fullback is a difficult switch, but had the Eagles' management simply signed a fullback with experience, (four-time Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal was available in free agency) it could be argued the team might have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.
In the two years prior to that ('06 and '07), the fullback was undrafted free agent Thomas Tapeh, who had showed flashes of brilliance in the '04 season finale, rushing for 42 yards on just eight carries, before missing the entire 2005 season due to injury. In his two years as the team's starting fullback, Tapeh accumulated a grand total of 27 rushing yards on 10 carries.
Preceding Tapeh was Josh Parry, an undrafted free agent who started 15 games in two seasons as the starter before being traded to Seattle for an undisclosed draft pick.
In fact, the last time the Eagles had a fullback on their roster, with fullback experience, the team went to the Super Bowl. This was during the '04 season with Jon Ritchie, an underrated blocker and pass catcher out of the backfield who had helped Oakland to the Super Bowl just two years earlier.
As a dedicated Eagles fan, it's confusing and often frustrating to see the offense run without the use of an effective fullback. Watching players LeRon McClain of the Baltimore Ravens, Madison Hedgecock of the New York Giants, and Mike Sellers of the Washington Redskins has shown me just how valuable a fullback can be to an offense when used properly.
In the highly competitive NFC East, the Eagles are the only team without a workhorse running back who can handle 25 to 30 carries per game. Weaver sure won't be the answer to that problem, but hopefully what he will be able to do in '09 is provide solid blocking for All-Pro Brian Westbrook.
So what kind of player are we getting in Weaver?
Well, he's pretty good. He's so good, in fact, that he was an alternate to the Pro Bowl last season! Did anyone outside of Seattle realize that? That's pretty exciting news for a team that hasn't had a fullback with experience on its roster since 2004.
In his career, Weaver has rushed the ball 80 times for 356 yards, an average of 4.5 yards per carry. While he won't be used much as a ball carrier in Andy Reid's offense, it's reassuring to know he seems to be a dependable short-yardage rusher.
Weaver is a good pass catcher, with 60 receptions for 547 yards—an average of just over nine yards per catch—and two touchdowns in his career. Weaver doesn't drop many passes and will provide a reliable target for quarterback Donovan McNabb.
According to scouts, Weaver is an exceptional pass blocker and an adequate run blocker. Just check out that picture above for proof.
I am excited to see what Weaver can do when he gets out on the field, especially since Westbrook is 30 and doesn't have too many years left. A good blocker will especially be helpful for those third and one situations that constantly plagued the Eagles last season.
Coming off of a breakout year, we as Eagles fans hope Weaver can build on the kind of success he had with Seattle in '08. Weaver won't be used, on even close to every play in this offense and he doesn't need to be flashy, but hopefully he will provide an instant upgrade to the Eagles in '09.
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