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2018 NFL free agency: Gauging the market at fullback for the Atlanta Falcons

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It’s Zach Line, Anthony Sherman or return to Derrick Coleman, basically.

Minnesota Vikings v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As we wrote yesterday, the Falcons have a decision to make at the fullback position. Traditionally one of the more stable spots on offense over the last decade, fullback is a legitimate question mark with Derrick Coleman turning in a solid but unspectacular 2017 and the team needing to make a decision on whether or not to seek an upgrade.

As you’ll see later today, there are draft options, including some players who might be useful as more than just conventional fullbacks in this Falcons offense. Because I’m going to assume the team is not going to expend a draft pick on a fullback unless they plan to get more out of them than some blocking and special teams work, though, I still think free agency is the likeliest route for this football team.

Acknowledging that, let’s take a closer look at what the Falcons could do in free agency to address fullback.

In-house option

Derrick Coleman

As we chronicled earlier this week, Coleman is a fine player who turned in a solid first campaign in Atlanta. He is not a high-end blocker but is a decent one, can make the occasional play on offense, and was genuinely useful on special teams, where he was a tackling machine for a Keith Armstrong unit that had one of its worst years in recent memory. That special teams value and his apparent culture fit are likely to be the chief arguments for re-signing him within Flowery Branch, and his blocking was not so poor that the team would reject the possibility of re-signing him outright.

Unless they’re willing to spend on one of the next couple of options I outline here, I do think Coleman has a good chance of returning to the Falcons.

Top-Tier Options

Zach Line

The former Saint and Viking is a conventional bully at the fullback spot. Built sturdy at 6’1”, 230 pounds, Line is a road-grading blocker who can help open holes for running backs and seems to enjoy doing so. At 27 going on 28 years old, he still should have a few good years ahead of him, making him a decent bet as a two year signing.

He’s fairly one-dimensional, as he’s never been more than a sporadically useful runner or pass catching option. He is an upgrade on Coleman as a blocker, however, and that’s chiefly what the Falcons should be looking for at the fullback position.

Weirdly, Line has some limited experience as a returner, having taken three kick returns back in 2015 for the Vikings. He’s also worked on special teams extensively, particularly with the Vikings, and would likely be a small but not awful downgrade from Derrick Coleman in that regard.

Anthony Sherman

The 29-year-old has long been one of the better fullbacks in football, however quietly. He has good hands, is a very solid blocker, and is regularly singled out for praise on special teams by Dave Toub, who is considered one of the NFL’s premier coordinators. He’d be a net upgrade on Derrick Coleman in just about every regard except maybe special teams, where he’s certainly not a real downgrade. It would be fair to argue that he doesn’t bring the same blocking prowess that Line does, but also arguably he’s a more versatile player.

Also, the Falcons stole Patrick DiMarco from Kansas City and that worked out pretty well, so Sherman’s probably worth a long look for this football team.

Mid-Tier Options

N/A. There are literally five full-time fullbacks on the open market, and Roosevelt Nix would have fit here until he signed a multi-year deal with the Steelers.

Budget Options

Mike Tolbert

I’m adding him for posterity’s sake, but Mike Tolbert is not an option the Falcons are likely to explore with any rigor. Tolbert has somehow been a Pro Bowler three times, likely because he has put up more impressive stats than other fullbacks, but he’s a glorified running back with some mediocre blocking chops. At 32 years old, he’s unlikely to suddenly become the road-grading blocker the Falcons could really use, and thus he would not be an upgrade on Derrick Coleman unless the Falcons wanted to replace Terron Ward and Coleman with the same player.

John Kuhn

Kuhn is 35 years old and lost the Saints fullback job to Line a year ago before hitting injured reserve with a biceps ailment in late September. Once upon a time, Kuhn was a solid and beloved fullback in Green Bay, where he showed an aptitude for big blocks and short-yardage runs for a team that largely lacked a strong ground game. At his age, coming off an injury, and showing declining blocking skills in recent years, Kuhn would be no better than an option of last resort for the Atlanta Falcons.