The Dallas Cowboys moved away from a traditional fullback in 2020 causing many people to question whether or not they should go back to using one more often in 2021. Immediately after the draft, the Cowboys went after highly coveted undrafted free agent Nick Ralston.
Ralston and the incumbent starter Sewo Olonilua, are Dallas’ top two traditional fullbacks on the roster. While the running back room has more than enough players, the Cowboys could decide to carry a fullback or two, carving out a bigger role in the 2021 offense for the forgotten position. Both of Dallas’ fullbacks can play special teams, which helps their cases, but should one of them show the ability to play in short-yardage situations as a running back, then the Cowboys may find extra time for the fullback position.
The Dallas Cowboys will have have to decide if they will carry a fullback this season.
In years past, the fullback was used primarily as a lead blocker for the running back, and sparsely used in the passing and run games themselves. Every so often we would see a fullback who could do a little bit of everything, but more often than not, the fullback position was seen as an extra blocker. Some of the best running backs in history had lead blockers in the backfield with them, even though many of them went unheralded.
Traditionally Mike McCarthy finds the fullback position more valuable than most by evidence of his use of John Kuhn in Green Bay. However, once Kuhn left, the Packers struggled to find someone to replace him. With a year off and time spent studying analytics, it is unclear how McCarthy now views fullbacks and their usage in today’s NFL. So if either can produce as well as a more traditional running back, then it may not matter as the Cowboys can carry one as both a running back and fullback.
However, here is another way the use of analytics and the belief people have may get blown up anyway. The common thought is that the more wide receivers you have on the field the most efficient you are. However, in 2019 and 2020 the most efficient personnel grouping was “21”, two running backs, one tight end, and two wide receivers. If McCarthy looked at these numbers he may decide a fullback would be smart to carry on gameday.
In 2019 the two teams that ran out fullbacks the most made the Super Bowl – New England and San Francisco. While New England’s EPA was actually a negative with a fullback, four of the top six teams to use a fullback were all positive in EPA on those plays and it didn’t stop the Patriots from continually using a fullback anyway.
The way it has flipped over the years has been a higher frequency of passing out of a “21” personnel grouping than in years past. According to ESPN Stats and Information Group, passing efficiency with two running backs has jumped from 2006 to today and increased almost every year with only 2009 and 2017 being the exceptions. Of those two years, only 2009 passed efficiency with other personnel groups higher than with two running backs.
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This all goes back to Bill Walsh explaining his West Coast Offense and the use of fullbacks. Walsh said, “The FB is the most critical part of our passing game because he’s the one that’s most difficult to handle.” Walsh felt that sending a fullback into space against a linebacker was a mismatch and that teams had to account for the second player out of the backfield. This helps create space for everyone since the middle linebacker is usually matched up against the fullback.
Circling back to the Cowboys, Mike McCarthy follows Bill Walsh‘s philosophy or at least had up to 2020. With such a strange season last year, the truth is we have no idea how the coaching staff will feel about fullbacks heading into 2021. There are some benefits to carrying one, and Sewo and Nick have the inside track to being the guy. Just something to keep an eye on heading into training camp.
- Published on 06/01/2021 at 12:37 PM
- Last updated at 06/01/2021 at 12:37 PM