B/R NFL 1000 2013: Top 16 Fullbacks
The fullback position has seen a regression and now a bit of a regrowth in NFL circles as formations like the pistol and plays like the zone-option become more common.
With that in mind, who was the best fullback in the league last season?
Our B/R NFL 1,000 series is back, taking a look at each position by scouting, charting, grading and finally ranking each player based on his 2012 season.
The B/R 1,000 metric is based heavily on scouting each player and grading the key criteria for each position. The criteria are weighted according to importance for a possible best score of 100. Potential and past accomplishments are not taken into account.
Fullbacks are judged on power (20 points), speed (10 points), hands (20 points), pass-blocking (25 points) and run-blocking (25 points).
In the case of ties, I have asked myself, "Which player would I rather have on my team?" and set the rankings accordingly. Subjective? Yes. But ties are no fun.
I, along with a team of experienced evaluators, have scouted each player with these key criteria in mind. The following scouting reports and grades are the work of months of film study from our team.
16. Jorvorskie Lane, Miami Dolphins
Jorvorskie Lane (5'11", 258 pounds, one season) is a massive fullback who played running back at Texas A&M until his senior season. He made a decent transition to fullback in his first season. Lane has the strength to move the pile, but he needs to improve his ability to locate his man and take a straight line to him. He loops around traffic instead of powering his way through.
Lane struggled at times to get leverage in the passing game when standing up and arching his back to take on defenders. If he can get low and use his lower-body strength to power his blocks, he’ll be fine.
Lane’s best attribute is his strength. At 258 pounds, he’s able to ram his way into a pile and push through. The Dolphins need more of that from Lane—as a runner and a blocker.
You won’t see Lane outrunning anyone down the sideline, but for a player his size, he has good enough speed to be a factor. He shows the quickness to get out on the edge and block, and he will get his weight behind him and blaze trails downfield.
Lane wasn’t used as much as a receiver as he was a blocker, but he did enough to show pretty good hands. He tracks the ball away from his body better than expected and has soft hands to pull in tough passes. Improving his vision to locate the ball is next.
Lane was a pleasant surprise for the Miami Dolphins this year as he made the transition to fullback. He’s an athletic big man with good blocking and running skills—something Miami needs around Ryan Tannehill at quarterback.
Lane was not ranked in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
15. Michael Robinson, Seattle Seahawks
Michael Robinson (6'1", 240 pounds, seven seasons) may not get a lot of credit for the Seattle running game, but consider that Marshawn Lynch regularly leads the NFL in yards after contact. Robinson does a nice job sealing on outside runs, but he’s not strong enough to open consistent holes in the middle of the defense.
Robinson is rarely kept in to pass protect. That’s because of his ability as a receiver, and because he can be overpowered at the point of impact. Robinson is willing, but he’s not strong enough to stop hard-charging pass-rushers.
You see much better power from Robinson in the open field as a runner or special teams player than coming from the backfield as a blocker. Being able to generate speed and momentum is key to Robinson’s punch.
A former quarterback in college, Robinson is an elite athlete for the position. He’s able to outrun defenders and shows great change-of-direction skills all over the field.
A good receiver, Robinson has been a factor as a receiver out of the backfield and even motioned into a slot position. He shows good ability to look the ball in but can struggle to make catches away from his body.
Robinson can be tough to grade as “just” a fullback, as his value comes as a football player first and foremost. Robinson is a valuable special teams player, runner, receiver, blocker and leader. That’s hard to put a number on. As purely a fullback, he comes in at No. 15.
Robinson was not ranked in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
14. John Kuhn, Green Bay Packers
John Kuhn (6'0", 250 pounds, seven seasons) does a solid job as a run-blocker for the Packers, but he’s limited in this regard. Kuhn can get outside the tackle box and set up outside runs, but he's limited when asked to push the pile between the tackles. Kuhn doesn’t have the raw strength to be a road grader.
Kuhn gets utilized as a receiver often, limiting his exposure as a pass-protector. When asked to stay in and protect, Kuhn does a good job working inside-out to identify threats but can struggle changing direction to protect against blitzes.
While Kuhn has the size to move defenders out of the hole, he doesn’t always connect and drive defenders like you’d expect. He can come in too high, forfeiting leverage and allowing defenders to control him. When he comes in low, he has the ability to dominate.
Kuhn has good functional speed, showing the quickness to get outside and lead block. What he won’t do is run away from the defense, but he’s not needed to be fast in short-yardage and blocking situations.
One of the better receivers out of the backfield among fullbacks, Kuhn does a good job bringing the ball into his body. He’s not a dynamic receiver, but he's a safe checkdown option in the flats.
Kuhn is a versatile athlete who perfectly fits the Packers offensive scheme. He may not be as popular in other offenses, but Kuhn’s abilities and style of play are ideal in Green Bay.
Kuhn was ranked No. 7 in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
13. Quinn Johnson, Tennesee Titans
Quinn Johnson (6'1", 263 pounds, four seasons) is at his best when clearing holes and allowing Chris Johnson to carry the ball. A tough-nosed blocker who can get beat by 3-4 defensive ends when asked to kick out and seal blocks, Johnson does a good job moving the pile in short-yardage situations as a lead blocker.
The Titans chose to remove Johnson from most passing situations—or they used him as a receiver instead. He’s not as proven as a pass-protector, but he showed a willingness to step up and take on blitzing linebackers. He needs work on hand placement and sinking his hips to take on impact.
Johnson has good power at the point of attack. He has no problem lowering his shoulders and driving into the pile.
Johnson is a bruiser who lacks the speed to be much of a threat with the ball in his hands, but he is fast enough to get out in front of the ball and lead the way on outside runs.
Used often as a receiver, Johnson does a good job of looking the ball in and making plays on dump-offs to the flats and on checkdowns over the middle.
Johnson is a big, physical blocker who is at his best working in confined spaces. While he doesn’t bring much value as a runner, even in short-yardage situations, he’s a talented blocker in run situations and an option in the passing game as a safety valve.
Johnson was not ranked in last year's NFL 1,000.
12. Stanley Havili, Philadelphia Eagles
Stanley Havili (6'0", 245 pounds, one season) surprised us on film as a run-blocker—in a good way. He’s aggressive and quick to fill the hole and meet linebackers in the gaps. While he’s too quick to throw a forearm instead of using his hands, Havili does a good job of keeping tacklers off his running backs.
A good pass-protector who is more often flexed out as a receiver, Havili can identify threats and step up to take on the edge. What he lacks in size and strength, he makes up for with a mean cut block.
While he’s not the biggest fullback, Havili does bring some power behind his blocks and when carrying the ball. He does a good job of running full strength into his blocks and making excellent contact at the second level.
For a fullback, Havili brings good speed and agility to the field. He has the quick feet to get to the edge and is much better in space due to his athletic ability.
Havili is a good receiver and has been dating back to his days at USC. He catches the ball well out of the backfield but can be a bit stiff when asked to turn upfield and make a play on the ball.
How well he’ll be used by Chip Kelly remains to be seen, but in Havili the team has a good athlete with experience as a receiver and blocker.
Havili was not ranked in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
11. Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers
Mike Tolbert (5'9", 245 pounds, five seasons) is a stocky, powerful fullback who has bounced between runner and blocker in his career. That said, he’s a better runner than run-blocker at this point. Tolbert has the strength but can be inconsistent in getting to his man and sealing off a running lane. He was a much better weak-side blocker in the read-option than as a classic I-formation blocker.
Tolbert struggled in the games we charted to identify the biggest threat to the quarterback. He’s also been overpowered during impact by defenders who get to him with his feet flat.
When running the ball, Tolbert packs a punch; as a blocker, he’s not the same. He can get walked back when blocking, but when running he’ll lower his pads and destroy defenders. His advantage when running comes from leverage and being able to be the aggressor versus waiting on a decision on which player to block.
Tolbert is a running back trapped at fullback. He has the speed to make plays outside the tackle box and can be a threat when matched up against linebackers. He’ll run away from the defense when given some daylight to work with.
A talented and dependable receiver, Tolbert sees the ball well in space. He’ll come out of the backfield as a receiver and was even motioned out to wide receiver at times this season.
Mike Tolbert is almost unfairly judged as a fullback, but that’s his true position. He’s an unreal athlete and a successful ball-carrier and receiver. The Panthers started using him more in this role as the season went along, and his production shot up because of it.
Tolbert was not ranked in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
10. Jerome Felton, Minnesota Vikings
Jerome Felton (6'0", 248 pounds, five seasons) played a big part in Adrian Peterson’s huge season, coming out of the backfield to open holes in the line. Felton is at his best when blocking off-tackle, as he’ll miss or get bogged down in traffic blocking up the middle. A good athlete, Felton attacks the edge well and can spring the back to an outside gain.
A solid pass-protector, Felton’s biggest obstacle is learning which defender to take on in pass protection. He does a good job stepping up to meet pass-rushers but has to learn to get leverage and hold his ground instead of attacking and giving up his advantage.
Felton didn’t run the ball one time this year, but as a blocker he shows the power to handle defenders in a one-on-one situation. He’s a stocky athlete who wins with leverage and pure strength at the point of attack.
Felton may be more quick than fast, but he has the speed to get to the edge and seal off rushing lanes for the ball-carrier. He showed better-than-expected speed and agility in getting to the flats as a receiver. Felton has the legs to get away from defenders with the ball in his hands.
Felton has ability as a receiver out of the backfield, and the Vikings used him often on third down as an option in the flats. Felton is a 50/50 receiver who is best utilized as a last resort in the progression.
It would be easy to credit the amazing talent of Adrian Peterson for Felton’s success as a player in 2012, but that wouldn’t be fair to the fullback. Felton is an all-around threat who deserves his share of the credit for Peterson’s monstrous year. Those rushing lanes didn’t open themselves.
Felton was not ranked in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
9. Greg Jones, Jacksonville Jaguars
Greg Jones (6'1", 265 pounds, eight seasons) is all about power. That shows up in his ability as a run-blocker. Jones is a terror at impact, but he plays uncontrolled at times. The ability to lock up and seal is there, though, and Jones can be very productive as a lead blocker.
Jones is used a few different ways by the Jaguars, and they all work. He flexes out to pick up the edge and does a good job sliding his feet to protect the pocket. Jones has good strength while on the move, but he can be walked back by defenders when asked to block in line.
One of the strongest players at his position, Jones packs a punch when meeting defenders in the hole. He’ll sometimes go for the big hit over the smart block, though, and must work on consistency.
Jones has the speed and agility of a running back. Even though he rarely carried the ball in 2012, you can see the athletic skill set in everything that he does.
The Jaguars used Jones as an outlet in the flats often in 2012, and he did well as a receiver. Jones can struggle to bring in passes thrown away from his body, but he does have value as a receiver.
Jones saw his snap count drop in 2012 under the direction of a new offense, but that could change in 2013 with a new head coach and offensive coordinator in town. Jones’ athletic ability has always surpassed his production, but he brings great value as a run-blocker and outlet in the passing game.
Jones was the No. 3 fullback in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
8. Jed Collins, New Orleans Saints
Jed Collins (6'1", 255 pounds, two seasons) is a smart player with exceptional vision and limited athletic ability. He sees the hole well but can be timid attacking the second level at times. He’ll make good impact but needs to work on getting his pad level down through the hole. Collins wins and excels with smart angles and a tenacity when locking up defenders.
Collins is often removed on third down, but he was featured as a pass-protector on early downs. He does a good job seeing the blitz and adjusting to pick it up but doesn’t have the strength to win one-on-one fights from a standing position.
While he doesn’t have great strength, Collins can win blocks if he keeps his feet moving. While he can be overpowered if standing, he’s dangerous if he gets ahold of a defender while on the move.
Collins doesn’t have high-level speed, but he shows good quickness and change-of-direction skills out of the backfield.
A plus as a receiver, Collins is used as an option out of the backfield but lacks the athletic ability to be moved around to find mismatches in the defense.
Collins is a good all-around fullback who really fits well in the New Orleans offense. He’s a solid run- and pass-blocker, but he's not someone who you want to carry the ball often. In a scheme loaded with playmakers, Collins fills his role well.
Collins was the No. 2 fullback in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
7. Henry Hynoski, New York Giants
Henry Hynoski (6'1'', 266 pounds, two seasons) is simply bigger and stronger than most players he’s going to meet in the hole. He uses his size and natural leverage to get underneath defenders to drive-block in the run game. Hynoski does a good job initiating contact, but he will bounce off defenders at times. You have to love his aggressiveness, though.
The Giants did a great job utilizing Hynoski as a pass-protector, flexing him out to an H-back alignment at times and also having him step up from the backfield to take on edge-rushers. He’s strong enough to handle the edge and does a great job locking up defenders and sitting down on his weight to anchor against the rush.
Hynoski may translate to power in Polish. The Giants’ bruising fullback is incredible at the point of attack. He’s aggressive and strong but also controlled. He doesn’t play off-balance or crazed. Hynoski does a good job finding his man and driving him out of the play.
While he doesn’t have top-end speed, Hynoski is quick enough to get out of his stance and into the second level of the defense without wasting time. He’s more quick than fast, but this is a limitation to his versatility.
The Giants like to use Hynoski as a safety valve for Eli Manning, rolling him out to the flats or having him as a checkdown off play action. He’s a decent receiver but not someone you work into a game plan as an option.
Hynoski made great improvements over the course of the last year. He looked much more comfortable in 2012, showing better patience, vision and angles on his blocks. The Giants have found a way to use their bulldozer, and when it comes to opening holes, few are better.
Hynoski was the No. 10 fullback in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
6. Bruce Miller, San Francisco 49ers
Bruce Miller (6'2", 248 pounds, two seasons) is something special when kicking out to open up a hole in the run game. Miller combines a fearless attitude with the strength to handle defenders, making him one of the best lead blockers in the NFL. Miller’s vision ranks near the top of the league, as does his hand placement and leg drive when locked on to a defender.
Being a good pass-protector is about being patient enough to wait for the defender to commit, being strong enough to take on players running at full speed and being smart enough to know when and where to hit. Miller does a good job with the first two, but he’s still learning how to choose who to block and when to pull the trigger.
Miller’s best attribute is his raw power. The impact he generates as a runner and blocker comes from his strength. Miller is effective at clearing a running lane through traffic thanks to his strong lower body and toughness.
Miller is a very good athlete but speed isn’t a part of his game. He won’t track down the field well and is really only effective at or around the line of scrimmage.
Not much of a threat as a receiver, Miller is much better utilized as a blocker than out in space as a pass-catcher. He can bring the ball in, but he is a body catcher who is limited to checkdowns off play action.
Bruce Miller is a beast to deal with. He’s fast, strong and aggressive. The former college linebacker doesn’t mess around, and his tenacity is both his greatest asset and his biggest obstacle to overcome. Miller’s stock is rising, though, as the classic fullback is making a comeback.
Miller was the No. 9 fullback in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
5. James Casey, Houston Texans
It can be tough to grade James Casey (6'3", 240 pounds, four seasons) as a run-blocker, because he’s often out of position as a blocker coming out of the backfield. Casey doesn’t have the vision or power to move the pile from there, but when lined up on the outside as an H-back or tight end, he’s able to get the angle needed to control outside linebackers and defensive ends.
A better receiver than blocker, Casey isn’t asked to stay in and pass protect often. When he is kept in to protect, Casey shows a good punch at defenders but lacks the strength to follow through with blocks and sustain contact.
Casey doesn’t have the power to lock on to a defender and push the pile, but he brings a punch when in space. Casey’s power is generated off speed and angles, and he’s at his best when cracking on an outside linebacker or hitting players on the move. He’s not strong enough to simply lock up defenders and win battles.
When graded as a fullback, Casey is exceptionally fast for the position. He has the wheels to get outside of the box and make plays as a receiver and blocker. Casey’s speed makes him a valuable edge-blocker, as he can get out in front of plays and lead the way. He’s also dangerous after the catch.
Casey could easily start at tight end for a number of NFL teams. He’s a sure-handed receiver who catches with his hands and can extend his arms to bring in the ball away from his body. Casey’s best attribute is his catching ability.
A picture of versatility, Casey was used in a number of ways in the Houston offense. He’s a capable runner, receiver and blocker, and while that didn’t always show up on the stat sheet, Casey’s pure ability will make him one of the most sought-after free agents on the market this year.
Casey was not ranked in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
4. Rhett Ellison, Minnesota Vikings
Rhett Ellison (6'5", 250 pounds, one season) might be the most underrated run-blocker in the NFL. In charting his games, we saw a physical blocker with good vision and strength through the hole. Ellison can do a better job making contact at the second level but otherwise was a brilliant lead blocker.
Passing downs generally mean Ellison is out running routes, not in protecting the quarterback. He was kept in sparingly this year, though, and showed that his aggressive style of blocking needs to be refined on passing downs. Ellison is too eager and lunges for his man too often.
You’ll find stronger fullbacks in the NFL, but Ellison does a good job combining speed and momentum to make power. He’s not afraid to sell out and attack the line of scrimmage or a linebacker on the edge as a blocker.
Ellison is a versatile athlete who can be used as a fullback or tight end. Thanks to his speed and quickness in space, Ellison is a mismatch anytime he comes out of the backfield as a receiver.
A talented and capable receiver, Ellison is at his best when mismatched on a linebacker in the flats or on a curl route up the seam. He’ll extend to secure the ball and can tuck and run after the catch.
The Vikings used Ellison as a fullback and a tight end this season—a testament to his versatility and athleticism. As a run-blocker from the backfield and the edge, Ellison established himself as a valuable piece of the Minnesota offense.
Ellison was not ranked in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
3. Darrel Young, Washington Redskins
Darrel Young (5'11", 251 pounds, three seasons) is aggressive—sometimes to a fault. He’ll lower his head at times when firing off into a defender, but you have to love his willingness to block and sell out on every play. Once he can learn to keep his eyes up and see the block, he’ll shoot up the board as those missed blocks become sustained hits.
Young shows good patience as a pass-protector, and just as importantly does a good job selling play action. Young transitions well from play action to blocking and isn’t afraid to take on contact.
Young does a good job initiating contact, but he could be stronger at the point of attack. He’ll bounce off defenders at times and needs to learn to lock on and drive block. As a runner, he shows good leverage and drive between the tackles.
In the Redskins scheme, Young was often asked to get out in front of option plays and lead the charge. He did that well thanks to good quickness and acceleration. Young is able to sprint to the edge and doesn’t make the ball-carrier slow down to wait for his block.
A solid receiver out of the backfield, Young showed a heads-up ability to catch the ball coming out of play action. He isn’t incredibly versatile but has good enough hands to secure the ball and pick up tough yards.
Built like a bowling ball, Darrel Young has the power to be an effective road grader in the Redskins’ zone-read offense. That scheme requires versatility from the fullback position as a runner, receiver and blocker, and Young can do all three. He’s an up-and-comer at the position.
Young was not ranked in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
2. Marcel Reece, Oakland Raiders
Marcel Reece (6'1", 255 pounds, four seasons) isn’t going to knock helmets and drive defenders out of the hole on every play, but he can when needed. Reece excels at walling off defenders by using his speed and strength to get the angle on defenders and keeping them from getting to the ball-carrier.
Reece has the talent to be special, but he gets caught out of position too often and has a tendency to stand up out of his stance to pass protect. Oakland has used him a lot as a receiver, which causes his pass-protection skills to fall behind.
Strong enough to push the pile, Reece generates much of his power from his speed. He doesn’t slow down before he hits you, which makes up for not having great overall strength. He generates power, though, and that’s all that matters.
Reece moves like a running back. He has the open-field quickness to exploit defenders and can be a runaway back in the open field. This isn’t fullback-level speed.
With soft hands and a good ability to adjust to catch the ball, Reece is a threat as a receiver. Thanks to his superb athletic ability, the Raiders can flex him out as a tight end or receiver to draw mismatches.
One of the more athletic fullbacks in the NFL today, Reece is a triple threat as a runner, blocker and receiver. What he doesn’t bring to the table as a pass-blocker, he makes up for with the ball in his hands. Reece is the most versatile fullback in the game today.
Reece was the No. 5 fullback in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
1. Vonta Leach, Baltimore Ravens
Vonta Leach (6'0", 260 pounds, nine seasons) is the NFL’s best run-blocker. Hands down. Leach is strong enough to get through the hole and truly lead block for the Ravens running backs. Leach understands the need for impact and leverage at the point of attack, and he’s strong enough to drive defenders out of the hole.
Leach can be a bit overaggressive at times in pass protection—opting to attack the defender instead of waiting and absorbing the rush. He’s strong enough to get away with this, though.
The best attribute of Leach’s game is his ability to drive block. With great lower-body strength, he’s able to lock up with defenders and back them out of running lanes.
You won’t find Leach outrunning defenders up the sideline, but he has good functional speed. He’s rarely asked to go further downfield than to the second level of the defense, and he’s fast enough to get there without problems.
A better receiver than you might realize, Leach isn’t utilized often in the Baltimore offense. He’s a body catcher, but that can be effective on underneath routes and screens.
Leach is a rare throwback to the old days of fullbacks. He’s a big-bodied bruiser who makes his cash by opening up holes between the tackles and kicking out to lead block on outside runs. On the off chance that he gets the ball, Leach can make things happen, but only on short-yardage situations.
Leach was the No. 1 fullback in last year's B/R NFL 1,000.
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