The Buffalo Bills signed fullback/running back Mike Tolbert in the early stages of free agency, and he might just carve out a super-specific yet vital role in 2017 that has nothing to do with running or lead blocking.
Per Pro Football Focus, Tolbert is one of the league finest pass-protection backs in football:
From the article on Tolbert’s pass-blocking prowess:
“Tolbert’s role in Carolina’s offense fluctuated greatly over the years since he joined the league in 2008. In particular, he was used as a pass- or run-blocker for over 50 percent of his snaps both in 2015 and 2016.
Although he has graded poorly over the past three years in run-blocking, he was ranked top-three as a pass-blocker for the past two years.”
Despite his spectacular season running the football, LeSean McCoy struggled mightly as a pass-blocker.
PFF gave him the worst pass-blocking score — 37.1 — among any running back in football last season.
While McCoy often whiffed in pass protection, it was a strange reason to leave him off the PFF Top 101 players list. According to PFF, he allowed 13 pressures on the 92 snaps in which he stayed in as an extra blocker, far from a good figure.
Compare that to Tolbert’s pass-blocking efficiency, via PFF:
“In 2016, although he was used as a pass-blocker on only 39 snaps (47th among running backs) he allowed just one pressure.”
Last year, Tyrod Taylor was the most sacked quarterback in football. Certainly some of that was due to his improvisational tendencies, but as we pointed out a few days ago, Buffalo’s offense was more efficient in 2016 when he stayed inside the pocket.
Also, there’s this from a late May article I wrote which provided a split-stat breakdown of Tyrod’s season a year ago:
“In the pocket, Tyrod was 248 of 383 (64.7%) for 2,651 yards (6.92 yards-per-attempt) with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. That equates to a 92.4 QB Rating, which lands between the overall passer ratings of Andy Dalton (91.8) and Russell Wilson (92.6) in 2016.
Those figures aren’t outstanding passing between the tackles — Tyrod’s 6.92 YPA isn’t that efficient — but completing close to 65% of his throws with a 3:1 TD to INT ratio is far from an indicator of inconsistency or lack of ability.”
Essentially, having an elite pass-blocking back next to Tyrod would be a seemingly subtle but nice luxury for Buffalo’s offense. And if he continues what he’s shown over the past two seasons, Mike Tolbert can be that pass-protection specialist for the Bills this season.