Bucking the NFL trend to go wide sets only, NFL playoff success has fallen to running teams. The LA Rams would be wise to draft a fullback in offense this season
The LA Rams had been a rather balanced offense for years. However, the trend shifted towards a passing attack in 2019. Some suggest it was due to managing the load for running back Todd Gurley. Others point to the number of injuries suffered by the offensive line, and suggest the passing game simply became the better option. Still others suggest that the NFL has simply gone the way of the passing game, and the LA Rams have fallen suit.
And then the NFL Playoffs happened. In two games, the teams to emerge victorious simply ran the ball at will. The victorious San Francisco 49ers won, rushing for 186 yards while passing for just 131 yards. The victorious Tennessee Titans rushed for 217 yards, while passing for just 91 yards.
I think there is a trend here.
Fight fire with fire
While college football no longer churns out fullbacks for the NFL Draft, that does not mean the death of the position. Quite the contrary. It mean college defenses no longer see offenses which employ fullback option sets, and must then learn how to defend them at the professional level.
The NFC West is arguably one of the most competitive in the NFL today, and likely will be for many years to come. The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Arizona Cardinals have each embraced the running game and strong defenses to carve their future success in the NFL. The LA Rams should learn a lesson from the playoff and do the same.
One way to do so is to add a fullback to some option sets for the team. A fullback gives the team additional run pass options, adds a blocker to the point of attack for the running game, and with the right personnel, often adds a receiver to a passing play which the defense simply fails to take into account.
Two Way players
Right now, NFL teams have shown creativity in staffing the role of fullback. The Baltimore Ravens have converted 6-foot-3 311 pound defensive lineman Patrick Ricard to fullback with promising results. He made the Pro-Bowl by contributing on both sides of the ball. Two-way players do not need to put up league leading numbers at all. In essence, they become two-for-one bargains to the team’s front office by delivering on both offense and defense for the price of one player.
Another option to staff the role for the Rams is to draft undersized tight ends out of the 2020 NFL Draft, or even target undrafted free agents specifically for the role. Ideally this H-Back/fullback hybrid role would be 6-foot-3 or under, 250 pounds or lighter. Assuming that 20 of the top tight ends are drafted, that means the Rams could effectively target two or three players from the undrafted ranks and try them out at full back.
2020 Undrafted free agent targets
In a far too early pre-combine projection, the LA Rams have several targets for a fullback role on the team
Western Michigan tight end Giovanni Ricci is a 6-foot 3 240 pound tight end who would fit the role nicely. He is an undersized tight end who has good hands, showing good proficiency as a pass catcher. Originally a wide receiver out of high school, Ricci bulked up to adapt to the blocker receiver responsibilities for a tight end.
Auburn tight end Jay Jay Wilson is a 6-foot-3 249 late blooming tight end senior transfer for Auburn University. A low usage player for Arizona State University, the Tigers senior put together 14 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. He is originally from Valencia, CA, so he should be a primary target for the Rams if he is not drafted.
Maryland tight end Tyler Mabry is a 6-foot-3.5 248 tight end senior transfer for the University of Maryland. He showed some pass catching proficiency at the University of Buffalo for three seasons, but followed up with 13 receptions for 155 yards for the Terrapins.
While the Rams have limited picks for the 2020 NFL Draft, the team has surprising success when signing undrafted free agents. UDFAs are a very low risk, high reward option for the team. Even if the offense does not incorporate many fullback sets, the presence of a fullback on the roster forces defenses to take that into account. Advantage LA Rams.