Let’s talk fullback. For the Buffalo Bills that’s Patrick DiMarco. Cutting to the chase, according to Spotrac.com, there were only 26 players in the league listed as a fullback in 2019. That makes the fullback more of a specialist position than punter or long snapper. In other words, teams don’t need one. Buffalo wanted one so let’s take a look at what Patrick DiMarco brings to the table and see if we can make a guess on whether or not the Bills will continue to use a fullback in 2020.
There are two important things in this clip. First, Patrick DiMarco does a pretty good job of helping on both sides of a lane for this running play. Second, you won’t always notice the work he does blocking because there might be another option that the running back will take. Devin Singletary could have followed the lead block but gets a decent chunk going a different direction.
This is a narrow victory for DiMarco. He’s almost pushed back into Singletary. To his credit, that’s T.J. Watt he’s blocking and it’s a bit of a weird angle on first contact. There are plenty of other blocks we could use that might show DiMarco in a more favorable light, but all things considered this is a good job on a tough block.
Alright. Fine. Here’s one of those better blocks. DiMarco gets a much better shot at his man here. The timing with all the moving pieces at the snap is impressive and DiMarco shows off good agility to get to the right spot. After finishing the first block he’s in the pile to help forge ahead.
If you go back and look, you might be surprised to see how often Patrick DiMarco runs a route. And the Bills aren’t shy about splitting him out wide either. As a fullback, I think DiMarco is a good receiver. But let me be clear on what I mean. There is nothing special about this route. There’s also nothing horrendous about it. It’s a perfectly fine route that should have had some success. DiMarco offers acceptable routes on a decently diverse tree.
This play is selected because it helps illustrate my usual argument for assigning blame on an incomplete pass. I decide who I feel is mostly to blame on a dropped ball by asking myself a simple question. If it had been caught would I say “great throw,” or “great catch.” For this pass I’d be inclined to say “great catch” which means I think Josh Allen could have helped his receiver out by throwing higher than three apples tall. Now, before the usual argument of “he got his hands on it so he should have caught it” shows up, let me be the first to say this is a catchable ball. There’s not a huge sample size to go off of but my impression of DiMarco is that you shouldn’t count on him to bail you out on a bad pass. He’s got good hands, but not highlight-reel ones.
Like above, the route is fine. It got the job done based on the play design. The chip and then out is an option that’s pretty often there for the taking if you wanted to use it more. DiMarco received seven targets, catching five, but there’s likely room to increase targets and productivity. On those fives catches, DiMarco was a lot closer to matching Robert Foster’s production than the latter is likely comfortable with.
Patrick DiMarco was asked to run the ball even less frequently than he was asked to catch it. This is 33% of his total attempts for the year and over half the total yardage. All three attempts were backed up like this. It’s nearly impossible to gauge running back effectiveness from this sample as the runs will go as the blocking goes in this situation.
This is another play where the chip and release was available for Allen. Luckily a better option in John Brown was also open so let’s focus on the block. Patrick DiMarco can be counted on to consistently give the quarterback more time.
I like Patrick DiMarco more than most fans as I think he’s a reliable all-around blocker who provides enough receiving and rushing potential to add some value beyond the fullback role. And all of that is before you consider special teams value. The bottom line is that he’s a good player and you can always find a use for a good player.
The word “find” is important however. As noted above, a true fullback focusing on blocking is a specialty position already. While DiMarco’s additional skills offer value beyond the traditional fullback role, he’s not so good of a receiver that he can be used all the time. Like all role players, you need to game plan a usage that takes advantage of the player’s best attributes. In a nickel-and-dime offense focused on timing, Patrick DiMarco’s receiving value would be at its highest.
I’m not convinced that’s Buffalo, although Josh Allen did improve significantly in the short and intermediate range of the field. I’m also not sold on the Bills using a power running game effectively that would be helped by a fullback. Arguably, the team may want to find a specialist who better fits the strengths of the offense. On a pure talent basis, Patrick DiMarco should stay in Western New York as he’s a near-lock to provide more overall value than a fair few back of the roster players.