One of my great pet peeves in the NFL today concerns the fullback position and its usage. Few offenses actually utilize the fullback effectively today, even when they have terrific players at the position, and it ends up feeling like many teams waste a roster spot on fullback when they shouldn’t bother.
The Falcons in 2018, for example, were actually better at running the football without a fullback on the field, which was partly personnel and partly an obvious truth: Few fullbacks are good enough blockers to offset the way a fullback telegraphs the run. That’s why great offenses tend to barely use the position in a traditional way (see the Chiefs, who utilized Anthony Sherman on under 10% of their snaps) or use the position extremely creatively (the 49ers, who used Kyle Juszcyzk in a number of ways and on nearly 40% of offensive snaps).
All of this preamble is not intended to knock the position or its best players, who can still be mighty effective for a well-planned offense. It’s to say that offenses who don’t really use it effectively should use that roster spot on someone else.
As you might guess, I’m alluding to the Falcons here. Keith Smith is a proven, quality blocker, but there was only so much he could do for Atlanta’s woeful run game last year on about 17% of the team’s offensive snaps. I had thought that Dirk Koetter’s willingness to go without a true fullback in Tampa Bay might presage a similar change for the Falcons, but Luke Stocker didn’t get that gig and there was no Alan Cross on the roster to play multiple positions.
Might that change in 2020 with pressure to improve the offense and Koetter’s past last of a true fullback? It’s a question I wouldn’t bother to raise if not for Koetter’s own history, but I think there’s a decent chance the Falcons look for a block-first tight they can use in different ways, either by dipping into free agency or prioritizing an addition late in the draft. I’d say Koetter favorite Alan Cross would be an option had he not retired last offseason to launch a coaching career, but I wouldn’t reject the notion of the team finally abandoning fullback out of hand.
I expect you’ll know by the end of March, when the team will signal its intent by either re-signing a perfectly capable Smith or conspiciously not signing a fullback. I’m still hoping, given the team’s unimaginative and ineffective ground game, that they’ll be willing to try a few new things.