The Buffalo Bills found themselves among the league leaders in a few categories last year, but one relatively obscure one was fullback snaps played on offense. Per Football Outsiders, Bills’ fullback Patrick DiMarco played the seventh-most snaps at fullback on offense this year, notching 174 total offensive snaps to go with his 155 special teams snaps.
While the fullback is a position that is going the way of the dodo, there are still a few teams, Buffalo included, that not only employ one (eight teams didn’t have a fullback on their roster in 2019), but who use them on offense, as well. Of the teams whose fullback logged at least 170 snaps, six of them (Buffalo, the New Orleans Saints, the San Francisco 49ers, the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Green Bay Packers) made the playoffs.
Did those teams make the playoffs because of their fullback? Of course not! However, it shows that just because the fullback isn’t used like he was in the 1970s doesn’t mean that the position is one without use.
Currently, DiMarco is slated to count more than all but two fullbacks against the salary cap in 2020. If the Bills choose to move on from their former special teams captain and current fullback, they’ll find a limited number of players available in free agency to replace him. Spotrac lists only nine fullbacks slated for free agency overall—five unrestricted free agents, three restricted free agents, and one who actually isn’t a free agent unless his club declines to exercise his option for 2020.
Here are a few possibilities if the Bills choose to go that route.
What better name for a fullback than ham, a working-man’s meat at a working-man’s position. A bowling ball of a man at 5’11” and 236 lbs, Ham was equally adept at clearing lanes for a potent Minnesota Vikings rushing attack as he was at gaining those tough yards himself. Ham appeared on the second-highest number of offensive snaps among this year’s fullbacks, playing 359 snaps on that side of the ball. He touched the ball 24 times last season, catching 17 passes and rushing seven times, and he gained a first down on eight of those touches. Minnesota ran “21” personnel (two backs, one tight end, two wideouts) more frequently than any team other than the San Francisco 49ers, and they were successful in that grouping. Quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 65% of his passes, averaging 8.8 yards per attempt with a 6:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio from that grouping. For the year overall, Cousins completed 69% of his passes while averaging 8.1 yards per attempt with a TD:INT ratio of around 3:1. The Vikings also ran the ball more effectively with a fullback in, averaging 4.8 yards per carry with Ham leading the way (as compared to an overall YPC average of 4.5). Ham is a restricted free agent and, as big a part of Minnesota’s offense as he was, it’s entirely possible that they use a second-round tender on him, which would cost the team around $3.3 million.
This one is hard to predict, as Juszczyk technically isn’t a free agent—the 49ers hold a club option, which if exercised would mean he counts $6.7 million against the salary cap for the 2020 season—but the NFC Champs have a ton of money sunk into the offensive backfield already. San Francisco has a league-high $23.4 million in cap spending allocated to the running back position for next season. Juszczyk was a big part of their offense, as he paced all NFL fullbacks in offensive snaps (396) while missing four games due to a shoulder separation, and he was an especially effective receiver. He caught 20 of 24 targets for 239 yards and a touchdown, which was low given the fact that he had at least 30 catches and 300 yards in three of the last four seasons. When Juszczyk initially signed with the 49ers, the Bills were interested in his services (and were even rumored to be the favorite to land him), so it’s quite possible that the team could be in on him again if he comes available. The 28-year-old Harvard grad will have to wait and see if he’ll be a free agent, however, as will the Bills.
The fullback for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs is set to be an unrestricted free agent heading into his age-31 season. Having only appeared on 97 offensive snaps, it’s possible that the Chiefs could deem him to be expendable; however, they’d have a huge hole to fill on their special teams, as Sherman played 310 snaps in that phase of the game, which covered 73% of the Chiefs’ total. Sherman was tied for fourth on Kansas City’s coverage unit with eight special teams tackles, which would have been second on Buffalo’s roster behind Siran Neal, who had ten. While Sherman is older than most of the other available free agent fullbacks, his tenacity on special teams would make him a great replacement for DiMarco, whose greater worth is also on special teams.
Speaking of fullbacks who are great on special teams, the Los Angeles Chargers fullback made 16 tackles on special teams, which tied for the league lead this year. While the Chargers ran “21” personnel on 17% of their offensive snaps, the fourth-highest rate in the league, they weren’t particularly effective when running out of that grouping. They averaged just 3.7 yards per carry with two backs on the field, far less than their 4.6 yards per carry average out of “11” personnel (one tight end, one running back, three wideouts). In his four-year career, Watt has more special teams tackles (34) than he does touches on offense (30), so signing him would be a move made primarily to bolster the special teams. At only 27 years old, Watt is younger than DiMarco (who turns 31 in April) and he’s better on special teams. If the Bills want to move on, this would be a good direction.
Which free agent fullback should the Bills sign to replace Patrick DiMarco?
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Fullback? We don’t need no stinkin’ fullback!