The Falcons’ fullback position has been in a flux several times over the last couple of years, especially after the departure of Patrick DiMarco. So while flux lies ahead again in 2019, it’s sort of nice to know who will be competing for the fullback job this early in the year, and even who will likely win the job.
That’s because the job here in the early going is between an incumbent who was an afterthought in last year’s offense with a different offensive coordinator, and a fresh import who has experience in a Dirk Koetter offense and can play tight end and fullback, even though it’s not his primary role. For a team that prizes versatility, that’s a big plus.
That guy is recent signee Luke Stocker. We don’t yet know how tight end is going to shake out with Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, and Eric Saubert all also around, but it’s very conceivable the team could keep four tight ends if Stocker’s going to play more than one role. Per Dan Quinn at the spring NFL meetings, specifically talking about the fullback position:
“(Stocker’s) definitely done that in the past and it’s definitely something as we go through the spring and into training camp, we’ll look at for sure. When you have that, it’s the same personnel group that you can play different looks. It’s always an advantage when you can do that. It’s just that you better be good at both. In his case, he is good at both. And then the factor on special teams. He’s always that way. When a player plays 25 or 40 percent of the time, he better make up some of that other time on game day on special teams. Luke’s play has proven that as well.”
Now, it’s possible the Falcons elect to use neither and bring in a new fullback, but the role has lessened in importance and impact for a couple of years now and the team would be wise to use a roster spot on a player who can do more than one thing. Ricky Ortiz played 13% of the offensive snaps (20% on special teams) in 2018, down from Derrick Coleman’s 22% of offensive snaps (and 63% of special teams snaps), which was in turn down considerably from DiMarco’s 31% of offensive snaps in 2016. Ortiz is a solid player but not a great one, and his limited ST role means the Falcons were using a roster spot on a player who wasn’t on the field for 85%-plus of the team’s snaps a year ago. It’s little wonder that Stocker’s being considered for that role, given that he has played more special teams snaps than Ortiz with the Titans and Bucs in each of the last three seasons.
Importantly, the Falcons signed Stocker because he’s a player with prior experience in Dirk Koetter’s offense, which has not been fullback friendly in recent years. In 2017 Koetter used Alan Cross as a fullback/tight end hybrid on just 10% of offensive snaps, and under Koetter and Todd Monken last year the team barely used a traditional fullback at all.
If Stocker is capable of playing fullback on the handful of snaps he’ll be asked to do so per game, and can serve as the third or fourth tight end, and can chip in on special teams, he’ll be an extremely useful player for the Falcons in 2019, and if he beats out Paulsen entirely the Falcons have have a free roster spot to shore up their defense or offensive line depth. A lot can change between now and September, but right now I think it’s safe to pencil him into that role, and it’s nice to see the Falcons thinking a little bit outside of the box here.