NFL1000: Free-Agent Rankings for the 2017 Fullback Market

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2017

NFL1000: Free-Agent Rankings for the 2017 Fullback Market

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    Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 free-agency preview, a series where we'll use the power of the 17-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you in-depth analysis of every NFL free agent this offseason. In this installment, lead scout Doug Farrar and fullback scout John Middlekauff dive into this year's fullback class.

    Every year, we hear the same narrative: The fullback is a dying breed. And every year, a few fullbacks prove that narrative to be incorrect. The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons met in Super Bowl LI, and their fullbacks were important parts of the offenses that got them there. 

    The Patriots were highly successful with a two-back power running game, and fullback James Develin led the way. Develin showed the ability to do everything, from straight up inside zone power to reach and seal blocks on the edge, and he was a force multiplier for LeGarrette Blount all season.

    Patrick DiMarco, Atlanta's featured fullback, wasn't a runner, but he's a fine blocker and sometimes lined up wide in the Falcons' diverse offense. DiMarco led the way for Kyle Shanahan's rushing attack, especially when the Falcons ran inside zone.

    Just as has been the case with other positions, fullbacks must be more versatile than ever before. Yes, the one-dimensional thumper is a thing of the past as a starter—he's been replaced by the slot receiver to a large degree—but you will continue to see fullbacks grace NFL offenses in many different ways.

    Previous installments:

    NFL1000 Free-Agent Quarterback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Tight End Rankings

    All advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

7. Marcel Reece

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    NFL1000 Scores 

    Incomplete: Marcel Reece did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

    NFL1000 FB Scout John Middlekauff

    Marcel Reece had an up-and-down 2016 season. He was suspended for the first four games and then was unemployed until Week 14.

    In only four games for the Seahawks, he was effective as a pass-catcher. He had five catches in the regular season and showed good play speed. While he doesn't move as quickly as he once did, he is still a weapon in the passing game. He will be 32 when the 2017 season starts, and that will not help his cause. He will more than likely have to wait until after the draft to find a team.

    In the run game, he has never been a great lead blocker and was average in this area in Seattle. He is only a positional blocker, and he struggles to sustain on contact. It would not shock me if Seattle brought him back to training camp, but it's hard to see a big market.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Reece is a decent pass-catching fullback who needs a versatile offense to succeed. He's less a traditional fullback and more of a specialist.

    Potential Suitors: Seattle Seahawks

6. Will Tukuafu

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Blocking: 43.3/100
    Running: 14.3/25
    Receiving: 8.2/15
    Positional Value: 4/10
    Overall: 69.9/100 

    NFL1000 FB Scout John Middlekauff

    The former defensive lineman-turned-fullback struggled to stay on the field in 2017. He was released in September and then re-signed by Seattle in late October. Tukuafu only played 40 snaps in 2016 and looked to be on the decline in his limited action.

    Tukuafu is strictly a lead blocker. At 33, it's hard to imagine there will be a big market, especially for a guy who struggled to play for the one team that valued his skill. He is just capable in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and even then his movement skills are so limited he has no chance to adjust on the fly.

    He brings nothing to the table in the passing game and could struggle finding a team that will need his services this fall. His only hope will be on a special teams-type role or that Seattle still values him.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Tukuafu is a conversion project who seemed to be an ideal fit for the Seahawks in situational blocking roles. He'd struggle in some schemes but could be decent in any power-running scheme.

    Potential Suitors: Seattle Seahawks

5. Zach Line

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Block: 42.6/50
    Run: 15/25
    Receiving: 9/15
    Positional Value: 4/10
    Overall: 71.1/100

    NFL1000 FB Scout John Middlekauff

    After playing under a low-round tender as a restricted free agent in 2016, Line enters free agency coming off a down year. The Vikings lost star running back Adrian Peterson to an injury in Week 3, and because of this, Minnesota's run game was a shell of itself the majority of the season. The Vikings depended on Peterson to carry them in 2015, and when he wasn't available in 2016, the wheels fell off.

    Zach Line is a former running back and made the transition to fullback when joining the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He did not have a good season as a lead blocker, but in all fairness this has never been his strong suit. He lacks the power and pop to move defenders on contact.

    He is the ultimate positional blocker and has the movement skills to locate defenders in space. In 2016, when he didn't have Peterson running behind him, he struggled clearing holes for a below-average running back group.

    While he is a good athlete, he has played a limited role in as a receiver and back. This is an area he could add value because he does have the athletic ability to be a functional offensive weapon for the position.

    I would not be surprised to see Minnesota try to upgrade its entire backfield, especially with the expected release of Peterson. The Rams could use a fullback to attempt to get Todd Gurley going in 2017.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Line could be a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game and with limited rushing opportunities. Pass-heavy teams might take a flier on him for that reason.

    Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers

4. James Develin

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Blocking: 43.4/50
    Running: 14.9/25
    Receiving: 8.8/15
    Positional Value: 4/10
    Overall: 71.1/100

    NFL1000 FB Scout John Middlekauff

    James Develin heads into free agency after signing a one-year contract with the Patriots in 2016. He has been in New England since 2012 and has established himself as one of the key role players on a championship-level offense.

    After missing all of 2015 with a broken tibia, Develin established he was healthy early and had a solid season. He excels as a lead blocker and helped New England's rush offense rebound from 2015 (30th) in 2016 (seventh).

    Develin is an old-school lead blocker who is excellent at lowering his shoulder on contact, locating defenders and moving bodies. The Patriots are a unique offense because they can do it all, but when they have a lead in the second half, they love to bring in Develin and run out the clock with their power packages.

    Develin is also highly effective in goal-line runs as a lead blocker. LeGarrette Blount led all running backs with 18 touchdowns, many of them in goal-line situations, with Develin leading the charge. This was a dominant short-yardage combo. The problem for Develin is he doesn't bring much else to the table, but the Patriots don't ask him to do anything else.

    We know New England will never overpay for any player, especially a run-blocking fullback, so if he gets any substantial offer, I would expect him to be gone. There are so many teams trying to set a winning culture that expecting money to be thrown toward a winning, tough football player like Develin almost feels certain.

    Doug's Quick Take

    The Patriots were wildly successful in their two-back power-run game in 2016; it was a major component of their offense. Develin was a big part of that, and I'd be surprised if the Patriots didn't re-sign him to continue that positive trend.

    Potential Suitors: New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles

3. Jerome Felton

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Blocking: 43/50
    Run: 15/25
    Receiving: 9.1/15
    Positional Value: 4/10
    Overall: 71.3/100

    NFL1000 FB Scout John Middlekauff

    Jerome Felton heads into free agency after establishing himself as one of the more physical lead blockers in the NFL. The Buffalo Bills led the league in rushing two years running while Felton opened holes for LeSean McCoy. Despite being 31 years old heading into the 2017 season, Felton proved he still has the play speed of someone in his 20s.

    The Bills changed coaching staffs for the second time in three years and offensive coordinators for the third time in less than a year. Despite having new coaches, the fullback will still be valued under the new regime.

    Rick Dennison, former Broncos offensive coordinator, will lead the unit under first-time head coach Sean McDermott. He will be the head coach on that side of the ball and should implement his West Coast principles. In 2016, Denver relied heavily on rookie fullback Andy Janovich as a lead blocker. I would expect the same in Buffalo come fall.

    McCoy is also a huge Felton fan. He said this in December about his teammate, per Robyn Mundy of USA Today: "I think he's doing a terrific job, and I haven't seen the entire league of fullbacks, but in my opinion, Jerome is playing as well as anybody that I've seen."

    This backfield shredded the league after Week 2 when Greg Roman was fired. I can't imagine the Bills want to break up one of the only positive elements of their team, especially when these guys work so well together.

    While Felton doesn't bring much to the table besides being a physical lead blocker and special teams contributor, his value for this offense is hard to quantify. With no fix at QB readily available, running the ball is what this offense will need to continue to do well. Re-signing Felton would be a great offseason start.

    Doug's Quick Take

    With a new coaching staff and system in place, there might be a move to less of a power running game, but Felton is a quality power fullback. That will have teams looking his way.

    Potential Suitors: Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers

2. Patrick DiMarco

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Blocking: 44/50
    Running: 14.9/25
    Receiving: 9.4/15
    Positional Value: 4/10
    Overall: 72.4/100

    NFL1000 FB Scout John Middlekauff

    The Atlanta offense dominated in 2016, but it was the run game that really exploded, going from 18th in 2015 to fifth this past season. While the dynamic running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman get all the praise, fullback Patrick DiMarco was the unsung hero.

    He has been more than just a solid player on the field. Coach Dan Quinn said as much to reporters: "One guy that—he's not their coach, but he's on them like a coach—is Pat DiMarco. You see a guy pull somebody aside, it's usually DiMarco."

    While I would be shocked to see Atlanta let DiMarco hit the market, he is probably not priority No. 1 in free-agency meetings. Freeman desires a new contract, despite still having one year on his deal, with his agent going public with desires to be compensated like a top back. But his success, like Coleman's in the run game, is greatly aided by DiMarco's lead blocking. Without him, they are not as potent.

    Although they don't hand him the ball (one career carry) or throw him the ball much (37 catches the last four years), he does have the athletic ability and movement skills to contribute on offense. The problem for the Falcons is they have so many weapons that it would be wrong not to force the ball to your superstars.

    The only reason I could see DiMarco not being back in Atlanta is due to financial constraints, given this might be the only opportunity for him to ever be highly compensated. With Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco and loads of cap space, the 49ers make sense.

    Doug's Quick Take

    DiMarco was a valuable asset as a receiver; he didn't get the ball a lot, but he was aligned in the slot and out wide at times. He fit perfectly in Shanahan's complex offense.

    He's a great blocker and a nice chess piece, and I'd be surprised if he leaves Atlanta. If he is, I'm sure Shanahan would find him valuable in San Francisco.

    Potential Suitors: Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers

1. Kyle Juszczyk

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Blocking: 44.6/50
    Running: 16.8/25
    Receiving: 10.8/15
    Positional Value: 4/10
    Overall: 76.1/100

    NFL1000 FB Scout John Middlekauff

    Kyle Juszczyk is not just the top fullback on the market; he's arguably one of the top free agents. Coming off his best season as a pro in 2016, his career arc has been steadily ascending for years now. He had 80 more snaps than he did in 2015 and was arguably the Ravens' most well-rounded player.

    As Baltimore fans know, Juszczyk can do everything on offense. While he only had five carries (seven in his career), he could play a role like Aaron Ripkowski does in Green Bay, where he often functions as a lead back. Some teams could project Juszczyk as a guy who could do more in the run game. His role has mainly been to be a lead blocker, where he excels.

    There is not a more dynamic route runner at the fullback position. You can move him around, operating as a tight end and also flexing into the slot. He is a major chess piece in the pass game. He is dangerous with the ball in his hands, breaking tackles and making plays in the open field. Pass protection is also an area he flourishes in, stonewalling potential blitzing defenders.

    After the season, Juszczyk commented on his pending free agency to Ravens.com's Garrett Downing: "I've been here for four years and have built a lot of relationships, and this team knows me best. If things work out that way, it would be great."

    But when top-flight players like Juszczyk hit free agency, any destination is possible, and losing him would be a big blow for Baltimore.

    Doug's Quick Take

    Any team focusing on a two-back power offense with versatility in the passing game would find Juszczyk a most appealing player. He blocks well, runs dynamically and is a good target as a receiver in space in the short-to-intermediate passing game.

    Potential Suitors: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears