Right guard will draw the headlines and safety should be intriguing. The battle for weakside linebacker could be an interesting, drawn-out one this summer. But for my money, no position battle is more unsettled than fullback, where three men will duke it out for the right to replace Patrick DiMarco.
The reason this position battle is getting less buzz is because it’s fullback, one of those positions that barely got its due when Patrick DiMarco was Pro Bowling it up in Atlanta. With DiMarco gone and Steve Sarkisian on board as the offensive coordinator, whoever takes over is likely to have a smaller role, but it’ll still be one of the more lively battles we see this camp.
Here’s what you need to know.
Current Depth Chart
Competition: Derrick Coleman, Soma Vainuku, Tyler Renew
I could not possibly be less sure who is going to win this competition. My early bet is on the young, athletic Vainuku, but each of these competitors brings something different to the table.
Coleman has a Dan Quinn connection of sorts from his time in Seattle, and is easily the most experienced option on this list. During his heyday, he was a solid lead blocker for Marshawn Lynch and an occasionally productive receiver out of the backfield. On the downside, he didn’t play a game a year ago and has never graded out as one of the league’s better fullbacks that I’m aware of. He’d be cheap, solid, and short-term if he stuck around, in all likelihood.
Vainuku spent some time with the Texans last summer, showing off pretty terrific athleticism for a fullback, before not making the team and never getting on the field in 2016. He’s young, has size, is a plus athlete and someone who had quite a bit of success in college, but Vainuku is mostly projection at the NFL level.
Renew is a productive, physical lead blocker from Citadel who is in this conversation because of the uncertainty at the position. He has the upside to be a plus blocker, though, and was a solid runner in college.
One thing is obvious: Whoever winds up at fullback isn’t going to be as good as Patrick DiMarco. This is one of the few spots on the roster where the Falcons figure to take a step backward.
I’ve got Vainuku winning this particular battle, but that’s not based on much more than the fact that he’s arguably the biggest, most athletic dude, and the team might find that intriguing. Coleman could win due to his veteran experience, Renew could win thanks to his youth and well-rounded skillset, or the team could throw all three of these guys out and go without a fullback. Really exciting range of possibilities, here.
The Falcons have done a nice job of assembling interesting competitors for a job that will be less crucial for them this year, but it’s obvious that fullback will see a smaller slice of the offensive snaps, and whoever plays there will be a downgrade. That’s far from a fatal flaw for this offense, but it’ll be a step down. Period.