Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Seventh-round draft pick Tommy Bohanon may start at fullback in 2013.
Tommy Bohanon vs. Lex Hilliard
The battle for starting fullback is the closest thing the Jets have to a win-or-go-home training camp battle. That's because the Jets most likely will carry only one fullback on their 53-man roster.
For Lex Hilliard, this battle truly is "win or go home". Should the Jets decide to start Hilliard in 2013, they can still sign Tommy Bohanon to the practice squad. Hilliard has too much NFL experience to retain that option.
Unfortunately, for Hilliard to keep his job he'll have to prove himself overwhelmingly superior to Bohanon. Bohanon would cost less to retain, in both salary-cap usage and cash.
Hilliard signed a one-year contract worth $715,000 in base salary plus a $65,000 signing bonus. Because of the veteran's minimum discount, his cap value for 2013 would be $620,000.
Bohanon signed a four-year contract. His base salary for 2013 would be $405,000. He also received a $62,248 signing bonus. If Bohanon makes the team, his cap value will be his base salary plus a quarter of his signing bonus, a total of $430,562.
The losing player's signing bonus counts in full against the 2013 cap. The $2,752 difference between their bonuses doesn't change this: The dollars and cents favor Bohanon. If the two compete to a draw or close to it, expect Bohanon to prevail.
If ProFootballFocus.com's assessment of Hilliard's 2012 performance is accurate, Bohanon's chances look good. When the Jets re-signed Hilliard, the site offered the following comment in one of its live blog posts:
"Hilliard was our lowest graded fullback last year because his blocking is terrible. His best work is done on special teams so maybe that's why they're not washing their hands of him."
This opinion, however, is not universal. Check out GangGreenNation.com’s Scott Salmon’s assessment of Hilliard's performance against New England last October:
Hilliard was one of the underrated gems of last night's game. As a fullback, he had several crushing blocks that stood up Patriot defenders. On Joe McKnight's longest run of the night, thirteen yards, to the left side, Hilliard stuffed a free rusher coming from the right side that could have blown up the play.
On Mark Sanchez's tight rope touchdown throw to Dustin Keller, Hilliard forced a free rusher to run past Sanchez, giving the quarterback enough time to throw the pass. Furthermore, Hilliard ran the ball three times for fourteen yards, giving him a good 4.7 YPC average. He also caught the ball once for an eight yard gain.
Finally, Hilliard was regularly the first person on kickoffs to greet Devin McCourty. On a crucial play after the Keller touchdown, Hilliard forced the fumble by throwing his arm and shoulder into McCourty's gut, knocking the ball loose...
ProFootballFocus.com graded (paid subscription required) that performance a -3.2. The worst element of that grade was a -4.1 in run blocking.
Here's why Bohanon might do better: Bohanon has above-average upper-body strength. That's based on his NFL Scouting Combine performance, where he led all running backs in the bench press with 36 repetitions at 225 pounds.
The key to victory is versatility. Fullback is a jack-of-all-trades position. Whoever wins the starting job will be able to block, catch passes and carry the ball from out of the backfield. In addition, the winner must be able to assume multiple roles in an offense, such as that of a second tight end, and contribute to special teams.
This fits with his collegiate use as a blocker, short-yardage runner and short-range to medium-range receiver. He lined up at fullback, halfback and tight end in college. He has been a capable if not prolific pass receiver.
Hilliard may have had his moments. However, if Bohanon proves to be a blocking upgrade and holds his own in other respects, it’s probably time for a fresh new face.
Winner: Tommy Bohanon