Cowboys: Fullback swap signals change in offensive philosophy

ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 29: Jamize Olawale
ORCHARD PARK, NY - OCTOBER 29: Jamize Olawale /

The Dallas Cowboys new fullback is less of a consolation prize and more of a change in offensive philosophy. Here’s why he signals change…

After losing last season’s starting fullback, Keith Smith, to the Oakland Raiders in free agency, the Cowboys traded for familiar face, Jamize Olawale, from who else? The Oakland Raiders.

But this isn’t about scrambling to replace a poached player. This is a calculated move that signals change in the way the offense runs. The new fullback isn’t going to be asked to just fill Keith Smith’s role, but rather carve out a new role…

Comparing the incomparable

Smith and Olawale are considered to be vastly different players. While Smith was considered a true lead-blocking fullback in the traditional sense, Olawale is the more athletic nontraditional weapon. To ask Olawale to step in and just do what Smith did a season before, would be both a poor fit as well as a waste of talent. Both can lead block and both can play special teams but Olawale appears to do more in the passing game.

When Smith came in the game, the intentions of the offense were quite obvious. Things will not be so obvious with Olawale lining up.

Contrary to some recent reports, Jamize Olawale is considered to be one of the better pass-protecting fullbacks in the league. Last season, he was rated by Pro Football Focus as the NFL’s second-highest rated pass-protecting FB.  Pass-protection never fit Keith Smith’s skillset. In fact, the Cowboys avoided even putting Smith in that situation, as evidenced by him only pass-protecting in 5 of 130 snaps last season.

Additionally, Olawale seems to have the upper hand at receiver as well. The 28-year-old has a history of playmaking ability as a receiver out of the backfield, (over twice as many career receiving yards than rushing yards) and even took a pass 75 yards to the house in 2016.

Overall, Olawale is considered extremely athletic for 6’1” 240 lbs fullback and can be used a variety of ways in a variety of downs and distances. Unlike, Smith who was used primarily as a short yardage lead-blocker.

The new offensive plan

Olawale was targeted by the Cowboys. There was plenty of time for them to get any old serviceable fullback (either in free agency or in the draft). They traded a fifth round pick for Olawale (and a sixth round pick) for a reason. He had the skills they wanted in a fullback.

So what might this personnel change signal about the Cowboys offense in 2018?

More passes to the backs, for starters. Scott Linehan has a track record of using his running backs as receivers out of the backfield. According to his historical stats, his lead halfback often averages roughly 100 receptions per season in his offense.

I was already planning to prognosticate a 100-reception season for Ezekiel Elliott, but the addition of Olawale only solidifies my projection.

More from Dallas Cowboys

The passing game

The past two seasons the Cowboys were hesitant to use Zeke as a receiver because he was so darn good in pass-protection. But with another capable body out there, the Cowboys could line up in a two back set, keep one in for protection and let the other go out as a target.

The addition of Olawale helps in both protection and attack. Linehan could have both backs dedicated to max protection at the snap, but either one (or both) could peel out as a target if the opportunity presented itself. This helps the offense appear less predictable and it helps cover up protection problems should Tyron Smith fall to injury again.

Fullback has never been a big part of the Cowboys’ offense, so even with Olawale, don’t expect it to change much.

Keith Smith only lined up for 130 snaps last season and I’d expect to see a similar amount for Olawale this season. He’ll just be used in a more dynamic way.

When Smith came in the game, the intentions of the offense were quite obvious. Things will not be so obvious with Olawale lining up.

Adding Jamize Olawale wasn’t a big move but it was a telling move. His addition is Dak Prescott friendly in two ways: He provides more protection should the edges struggle again. And he opens up more targets underneath – the ones Dak loves to target but opponents love to take away.

Next: Cowboys 7-Round Mock Draft (March 3.0)

I expect to see more of those balls that used to go to Jason Witten start going to the Cowboys running backs in 2018. Jamize Olawale helps make that happen.