It has been a couple of years since we’ve had a legitimate FULLBACK BATTLE on the Atlanta Falcons roster. The last time, it was a relatively unproven Patrick DiMarco fighting off military man and bruising blocker Collin Mooney, before DiMarco went on to be perhaps the best fullback in football over the last two seasons. If the Falcons are exceptionally lucky, they’ll get someone half as good as DiMarco for a song this year.
The question is, who will that player be? With Steve Sarkisian’s lesser emphasis on fullback (we assume, with good reason), it stands to reason that the Falcons could go in a handful of different directions to address their lead blocking void. Here are all of them, as of the moment.
The recently-signed fullback has one of the wilder stories you’ll hear from any fullback in the NFL (yes, I realize how small a crowd I’m selecting from, here). He has a Super Bowl ring with the Seahawks, knows Dan Quinn, is essentially deaf and uses hearing aids, and pled guilty in a hit-and-run accident. He also didn’t play an NFL game in 2016.
Coleman can run a little, catch a tiny bit, and blocks reasonably well, but if he’s going to get this gig, it might be his connection to Quinn that does it. Someone else will have to tell me if I’ve missed the mark here, but I simply haven’t seen enough to suggest that he’s more than average overall in run blocking, and he likely needs to be in order to make a compelling case for the gig.
Coleman appears to have technically served his suspension last season, though he didn’t play in any games, so he should be available from the jump for the Falcons.
My pick, despite the seeming odds against him. Vainuku is a big, physical fullback who showed well in extremely limited action last summer with the Houston Texans. He’s young, was a noted special teamer in college, and appears to have some upside as a runner (albeit likely only a short yardage option). That’s versatility.
Young, cheap, and talented seems like a recipe Dan Quinn would like to follow. If he impresses early, I think he’ll get the job.
Plenty of tight ends
It’s possible that the Falcons won’t use a true fullback all that much in the first place. Sark has shown a fondness for tight ends throughout his coaching career and is walking into a place where he has a young, promising starter, a useful veteran backup, and a couple of very young players with upside, not to mention the possibility of adding another in the draft.
In this scenario, it’s not hard to imagine D.J. Tialavea or even Levine Toilolo sometimes lining up in the backfield to block, and it’s kind of fun to imagine Toilolo basically obscuring a team’s view of Devonta Freeman.
Of course, someone might still be the nominal fullback, and that outcome might lead us to...
The long shot on this list. Ward was an obvious Kyle Shanahan favorite, which means he may or may not have a role here, especially with the Falcons sniffing around draft-eligible running backs. His best bet might be to show further improvement as a blocker and stay on as a kind of hybrid RB/FB in a system that only uses a nominal fullback in the first place.
Ultimately, though, the Falcons might be well-served to let Coleman and Vainuku duke it out, keep Ward as the third back, and forego running back in the draft this year. That’s what I’d do, anyways, and we all know my track record running football teams.