Duane Burleson/Associated Press
The fourth-round selection of Harvard, fullback Kyle Juszczyk was somewhat of a surprise in last year's draft and signaled the (temporary) end of Vonta Leach's tenure in Baltimore.
Leach was released but then re-signed to take over the lead blocking role in the rushing attack. Juszczyk was more of a receiver/tight end/H-back hybrid at Harvard and didn't spend too much time blocking, so he wasn't cut out for the responsibility of paving the way for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce in 2013.
But 2014 is a new year, and it breeds plenty of optimism and opportunity for the versatile player.
For starters, one season of NFL-caliber coaching and practices is sure to have done wonders for his ability as a blocker. He did very well as the lead blocker on kick returns and impressed the coaching staff with his physicality according to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com.
Furthermore, Juszczyk's ability to move all around the field and be utilized as a receiver makes him an intriguing weapon in an offense that was short on playmakers last year.
Head coach John Harbaugh elaborated on Juszczyk's unique skill set and how he envisions the fullback's role growing this season (via Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com): "Kyle has got to be a huge part of what we do going forward. ... [Juszczyk’s] the link, as far as being a move guy, lining up in the backfield and lining up out as a wide receiver. He can do those things. We have high hopes for him."
Looking at Juszczyk's abilities and factoring in his new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, it's hard not to think of James Casey.
Casey played for Kubiak as the Houston Texans' hybrid fullback/tight end/jack of all trades. He was used primarily as a blocker in Houston, but also caught a total of 52 passes for 590 yards and four touchdowns in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
There's absolutely no reason that Juszczyk can't be a similarly effective receiver for Joe Flacco and the offense.
At the end of the day, however, the obstacle in Juszczyk's path to playing time wears a No. 44 jersey: Vonta Leach. The veteran fullback has been a trendy salary-cap-casualty pick (including by yours truly), but his connection to Kubiak (from their time in Houston) may keep him in Baltimore.
If Leach stays, Juszczyk will still have a role on the offense, but it will be limited. If Leach leaves town, don't be surprised if Juszczyk emerges as a useful weapon.