Continuing our series this offseason at Steelers Depot of “Ranking the Rooms,” today we take a look at the seemingly forgotten position of fullback.
Despite being mostly useless in today’s NFL across the league, the AFC North still sticks to its guns when it comes to fullbacks as all four teams have some solid lead blockers out of the backfield that can also catch passes.
How do the teams in the North shape up at fullback? Let’s take a look.
No. 1 — Baltimore Ravens
Kyle Juszczyk is arguably the best fullback in football, not only as a run blocker, but also as a pass catcher.
Last season for the dismal Ravens, Juszczyk hauled in 41 passes for 321 yards and four touchdowns out of the backfield, hauling in the second-most touchdown receptions on the season.
Since the former Harvard product stepped into the league in 2013 he’s been a very valuable weapon for the Ravens. During his second year in the league the fullback was named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate selection.
With a presumably healthy roster around him this season, Juszcyzk should have another strong year for the purple and black and should get a call to the Pro Bowl once again.
No. 2 — Pittsburgh Steelers
If you’d have told me last season heading into training camp that Roosevelt Nix would beat out Will Johnson and ultimately force Johnson off the roster, I’d have laughed at you.
However, Nix’s physicality as a former college linebacker at Kent State played right into him being a dominant run blocker for the Steelers in 2015, while also serving as a special teams demon week after week for the black and gold.
Due to his big rookie season, Nix is now a known commodity across the league and should have his name in the same breath as some of the best fullbacks in football.
Another year opening up big holes for Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams should continue to push Nix up the ladder despite not being much of a threat as a pass catcher.
No. 3 — Cincinnati Bengals
Technically an H-back, Ryan Hewitt serves as a pseudo fullback for the Bengals, often lining up in the backfield as an extra blocker for Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, as well as a pass-catching option out of the backfield for Andy Dalton.
Although not much of a weapon as a blocker, Hewitt does have value for the Bengals as yet another receiver in that offense and could possibly start the 2016 season at tight end with Tyler Eifert expected to miss the start of the season.
Cincinnati doesn’t run a traditional offense much and doesn’t usually deploy a fullback often, which certainly drops them down the list, but Hewitt does an admirable job as the H-back.
No. 4 — Cleveland Browns
Sensing a theme here?
Through three positions (QB, RB and now FB) the Browns are routinely at the bottom of the list. Although this shouldn’t be surprising, I do love what Cleveland is building even if they’re a few years away from competing.
Malcolm Johnson in the incumbent starter for the Browns at fullback, but rookie Patrick Skov out of Georgia Tech should push for the starting job this year.
Both are good lead blockers and know how to catch the ball out of the backfield, so each should provide quite a bit to a rebuilding Browns offense; just don’t expect a ton from either one.
Johnson stepped into the role nicely in 2015 for Cleveland and started off the year well against New York Jets. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Johnson didn’t do much after that and now could lose his role to Skov.
Skov comes from the triple option offense under Paul Johnson and knows how to work effectively in the running game from the fullback spot and also knows how to bust open holes for runners behind him.
He’ll have to take a major step forward as a pass catcher though in Hue Jackson’s system to really leave a mark.