Dallas Cowboys Roster Talk: Keep a FB?


Should the Dallas Cowboys keep a fullback on the 53-man roster or could they skip the FB and load up elsewhere?

In recent seasons, the NFL has phased out the importance and prevalence of the fullback position. The FB, predominantly a lead blocker coming out of the backfield, has seen a smaller and smaller role in today’s pass-heavy NFL.

Gone are the days of Moose Johnston blowing up holes, and pushing through to the second level play after play. Today, teams are opting to play with an extra receiver or TE on the field, forcing mismatches, encouraging a nickel defense formations, and opening up the box.

The Dallas Cowboys aren’t unlike the rest of the NFL regarding their infrequent use of the fullback position. In 1082 regular season offensive snaps, the Dallas Cowboys’ fullback, Tyler Clutts, only took the field for 162 plays, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That’s 15% of total plays and only 12 snaps more than the 150 snaps #5 WR Devin Street played.

Of those 162 plays, Clutts was used as a run blocker 142 times. That’s 88% of the time! That lack of versatility instantly signaled to the opposing defense what the Cowboys were likely to run when they saw Clutts enter the huddle. That kind of transparency isn’t very beneficial to the Cowboys in any situation, especially always-critical short yardage situations.

Consequently, in my first offseason 53-man roster projection, I projected the Cowboys keeping a fourth tight end, instead of the rarely used fullback. But it’s important to understand, the #1 reason for such a bold prediction wasn’t because the lead-blocker role is unimportant. To the contrary, the lead-blocking role is extremely important, and that importance is only accentuated in short yardage situations. But the lead-blocking role does not REQUIRE a FB. The reason I project the Cowboys to go with an extra TE instead of FB is because 7th round draft pick, Geoff Swaim can also lead-block.

Immediately following the draft I had this unflattering nugget to say about new Cowboy, Geoff Swaim:

"“We know James Hanna, our 2nd best TE, is set to be a free agent after this season. We know the Cowboys like to save money wherever possible, and are therefore very unlikely to invest much to retain him. But that’s a year away and there currently isn’t a roster spot on the 53 for a one-dimensional TE (Swaim) – who figures to contribute nothing until next year. So what gives?”"

Geoff Swaim is going to be an H-Back — The same H-back role that James Hanna never quite became, and the same H-back that can make the fullback expendable. The role of H-back is not easily defined. As I described here, Surprise Geoff Swaim may be a great pick, different teams define H-back in different ways.

In a nutshell, the H-back serves as a TE/FB hybrid. He can lineup on the line, off the line, and/or in the backfield. He can lead-block on the move, block from a set position, and/or block after using motion. He has both zone blocking, man blocking, and lead-blocking responsibilities. An effective H-back must do all of this AND be an occasional down-field receiving threat.

Needless to say, (but I will anyway) the H-back redefines versatile. And versatility is the complete opposite of a fullback.

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Jason Garrett has been known to enjoy the services of a fullback in his offensive scheme. That is an inescapable fact. Nothing beats having a strong lead-blocking option on critical short-yardage situations. If Swaim can prove to be capable of filling this critical role, he will be a shoe-in to make the roster.

And if the Cowboys keep Geoff Swaim as the 4th TE, you can be assured it will be at the expense of the FB.

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