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2016 NFL Draft: Complete Fullback Rankings

It may no longer be a significant role in the modern game, but there’s a lot to love about seeing great fullback play when they get involv

It may no longer be a significant role in the modern game, but there’s a lot to love about seeing great fullback play when they get involved. Plenty teams still use them, and indeed value them in the draft as well (the Titans drafted Jalston Fowler in the 4th round last year), and there’s a few who would be worth a selection this time around as well. Versatility is usually the most important word at the position these days though; being able to contribute more than just as a lead blocker is generally a big part of a prospect’s value. Sr = Senior, Jr = Junior, So = Sophomore. An “r” prefix indicates a redshirt year (sat out for a year without playing, usually their first year of college) 1. Dakota Gordon, San Diego State, Sr – 6th Round The Aztecs under Rocky Long are all about the power running game, that led to the team producing two 1,000+ yard rushers in 2015. Leading the way all year for both backs was the outstanding Dakota Watson, an absolute stud of a fullback. I didn’t expect to find anyone at the position who I’d enjoy watching as much as Aaron Ripkowski last year (who also went in the 6th round to the Packers), but Gordon is nearly as entertaining. He’s short at just over 5ft 9, but broad, stout and exceptionally strong, while playing with so much physicality, aggression and fight. There’s bigger names at the position that are more well-known listed below, but none of them are even close to Gordon when it comes as a blocker with textbook technique. He hits with power at the point of attack, but also smartly opens holes in ways such as turning his man or setting the edge correctly. These days to make it in the NFL as a fullback is not easy, and it’s nearly essential to offer some versatility to contribute much more than just blocking. Gordon didn’t get a huge number of opportunities to be used as a ball carrier himself or as a receiver, but when he was, he performed those roles very efficiently and effectively, finding holes as a runner, and executing solid routes out of the backfield while showing reliable hands. His performance in his final game with SDSU in the bowl game versus Cincinnati was so good that he actually won MVP honours for his performance despite where he plays. Throughout the game he was consistently making numerous key blocks on big runs, pancaking defenders to the ground or stonewalling them on contact. But on top of that, in what was a show of appreciation by the coaching staff to a player who has put in so much unsung work over the course of the year, Watson was given some touches of the ball himself that resulted in scoring two of the team’s 4 touchdowns on the day. He rushed in one of those scores, but the highlight was a 16-yard reception out of the backfield which required Watson to completely flatten the one defender in his path on route to the end zone. While it was a nice touch by the coaches, it gave Watson a chance to show scouts his versatility beyond the standard role of lead blocking that he excels at. He’s a quality full back and worthy of a final day draft selection. 2. Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State, rJr – 6th-7th Round The name instantly grabs the attention, as the youngest brother of the family led by superstar Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. If you ignored the name, would he still get drafted? My answer is absolutely, his film is good and shows he has plenty to offer, and the name shouldn’t be completely ignored anyway – bloodlines from successful current or former players can frequently have similar character traits to their relatives, and can be looked at positively. Glenn took a rather unusual decision to enter the draft a year early, despite the position he plays, but he’s earned his degree and another year in college likely wouldn’t do much to boost his stock in fairness. He’s been hoping over the course of this pre-draft process to prove himself worthy of a role as a pass catching tight end / H-back type, including at the Senior Bowl event, and while he doesn’t have the size to truly be considered a tight end at 6ft 2, 239 lbs, he has shown good talent as a receiver, finding space on short to intermediate routes and solid hands to prove a threat in that area. He’s made some highlight plays with the ball in his hands, including a 62-yard touchdown catch and run against Oklahoma in 2014. He has the size to be an effective blocker, but right now, that’s arguably his weakest area right now, with some questionable technique that doesn’t always do the job correctly. Often he is failing to use his hands properly, getting glancing blows rather than head on, and doesn’t use leverage to his advantage when taking on defenders head on. If he can clean that up, then there is certainly an NFL full back and H-back in Gronkowski with the versatility wanted that gives him a great chance to earn a roster spot. 3. Dan Vitale, Northwestern, Sr – 7th Round Excelling in the Wildcats’ “Super Back” role, Vitale has been a regular playmaker for his team over the past few seasons, and has amassed 135 receptions over his four seasons from the hybrid TE/HB/FB/Slot Receiver amalgamated position. For all that he is talked about as a versatile offensive weapon though, when actually analysing his film, that’s a little bit of a myth that doesn’t ring true really. For all his production as a pass catcher, which is impressive, no question, he doesn’t carry the ball much, and is actually a rather poor and often ineffective blocker. He’s going to have a few struggles to hang on to a roster spot in camp if he can’t quickly get better in his blocking technique, effort and strength at the point of attack. The receiving part of his game is good, including running solid routes, and possessing decent hands, he’s still a full back in terms of size at 6ft 1, 239 lbs, so isn’t necessarily going to be beating out bigger receiving tight ends on a team if he can’t show more beyond that. There’s more drops than you’d like, and he’s not going to break many big plays, with his yardage on receptions averaging at around 10 yards a catch, nothing that impactful. He’s played a lot over four years and has been a consistent contributor over that time. But he’s wrongly classified as “versatile”. He’ll need to prove himself on special teams and show significant progress as a blocker. 4. Andy Janovich, Nebraska, Sr – 7th-PFA (Priority Free Agent) Whether he earns a draft selection late on the final day, or if he joins a team in the fall as a free agent, you can almost guarantee that Janovich will make it extremely tough for the decision makers to cut him as they work down to a squad of 53. He’s going to endear himself to his coaches, who will love his attitude and work ethic, on top of his solid NFL measurables and abilities. A former walk on, Janovich didn’t take long to earn a scholarship with the Cornhuskers after his freshman season, and after contributing all four years he finds himself in a dream position as a combine invite and potential draft selection. He’s worked his way up to this point with so much drive and determination that will work to his advantage in pre-season. What instantly stands out about Janovich is his strength, reflected in the 30 reps on the bench he did as one of the top performers in that drill at the combine, and how he uses it to his advantage on the field to send defenders backwards as a drive blocker. Had he been entering the league this time last year, his great work as a lead blocker wouldn’t be enough to be a pick, as his contributions elsewhere were minimal, with just 3 receptions and no carriers over his first three seasons. With other backs moving on, Janovich finally got a chance to prove he could do more, and chipped in with 42 carries in 2015, averaging 6.31 yards per carry on those touches and 3 scores (admittedly those numbers were helped by a fantastic 55-yard touchdown run against Wisconsin, but he fought for that and did brilliant to stay out in front of the chasing defenders). He still hasn’t added a threat as a receiver, which is a hole in his game right now, but that’s about all that’s missing.

Priority Free Agent:

5. Derek Watt, Wisconsin, rSr 6. Chris Swain, Navy, Sr 7. Sione Houma, Michigan, Sr 8. Soma Vainuku, Southern California, rSr 9. Trayion Durham, Kent State, Sr 10. Andrew Bonnet, North Dakota State, rSr 11. Quayvon Hicks, Georgia, Sr

Potential to make a roster or practice squad:

12. Tim Brown, West Chester, Sr 13. Joe Ray, Lenoir-Rhyne, Sr 14. Trevon Pendleton, Michigan State, rSr 15. Patrick Skov, Georgia Tech, rSr 16. Deane Cheatham, James Madison, Sr 17. Michael Felton, Temple, Sr 18. Alan Cross, Memphis, rSr

Outside shot at making a team:

19. Joe Kerridge, Michigan, rSr 20. Nikko Watson, Western Illinois, Sr 21. Nick Butier, Northern Arizona, Sr 22. Jahleel Pinner, Southern California, Sr 23. Imani Cross, Nebraska, Sr 24. Austin Traylor, Wisconsin, rSr 25. Cody Clay, West Virginia, rSr 26. Alex De La Torre, Texas, Sr 27. Steven Walker, Colorado State, Sr

Something to like about their game, but longshot to make a team:

28. Seth Fisher, Richmond, rSr 29. Jeremy Seaton, Oklahoma State, rSr 30. Elijhaa Penny, Idaho, Sr 31. Jamal Wilson, Montana, rSr 32. Sam Bergen, Rutgers, rSr 33. Miles Thomas, Minnesota, Sr 34. Tony Philpot, Samford, Sr

The rest:

35. Jordan Jurasevich, Purdue, Sr 36. Sam Frye, Citadel, Sr 37. Adam Cox, Iowa, Sr 38. Larry Harris, Western Illinois, Sr 39. Nu’uvali Fa’apito, Colorado State, rSr 40. Mandel Dixon, Tulsa, Sr 41. Tim Clary, Illinois, Sr

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2016 NFL Draft: Complete Fullback Rankings

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