Player: Roosevelt Nix
Free Agent Status: Exclusive Rights
2016 Salary Cap Hit: $525,000
2016 Season Breakdown:
I have made liberal use of the phrases “fan favorite” and “everybody’s favorite player” during this series to typically refer to players that have been less than favorably greeted by the Steelers’ fan base, but one player to whom such labels would not be ironically applied is fullback Roosevelt Nix, who has legitimately been a fan favorite pretty much since training camp of 2015.
A product of Kent state as an undersized defensive lineman, Nix was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Falcons in 2014 to be looked at as a linebacker. Over the course of their evaluation, they tried to move him to fullback, but the transition didn’t stick any more than he did to their 53-man roster.
The Steelers signed him to a reserve contract in January 2015 as a linebacker, but they switched him to fullback as well during the spring. Because Will Johnson was dealing with an injury, Nix got a lot of burn on offense and they simply kept using him, though he really made the team because of his performance on special teams.
Yet his absence on offense and on special teams was apparent during the early portions of the 2016 season while he was sidelined with a back injury. They pretty much abandoned the use of the fullback until he returned, with David Johnson getting just a couple of snaps in that role.
The Steelers turned to him more and more in the second half of the season as they turned the offense more to the running game, and that coincided with their longest winning streak since the 2004 season. Nix played a small but not insignificant role in that development. He was especially featured during a record-setting rushing day up in Buffalo.
One important point is that he continued to play well on special teams, in addition. He registered seven tackles despite missing a lot of games and having his duties curtailed in others while he was working his way back from the back injury.
Free Agency Outlook:
It should not be surprising that the Steelers quickly got Nix back under contract early in the offseason as an exclusive rights free agent, though this will be the last season that they have complete control over their fullback.
2017 will see the completion of Nix’s third full season in the league, which will make him a restricted free agent, and which will give him more flexibility. Not that there is much of a robust market for fullbacks, and thus probably not something to worry much about, but it is a consideration if they have to tag him.
I speculate every year about how much the role of the fullback will expand or contract from one year to the next. 2016 saw a bit of a detour because of injuries. I do wonder what a fully healthy 2017 will look like for Nix.