Over the past few years the fullback position has had declining value for the Atlanta Falcons, but that is likely to change in 2015.
With newly hired head coach Dan Quinn and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons are expected to have a renewed emphasis on running the football. And as such, that puts greater emphasis on having a competent fullback that can open up running lanes.
The current incumbent is impending restricted free agent Patrick DiMarco, who has served ably for the Falcons in the past two years. But overall, DiMarco’s performance has been decidedly average. Since DiMarco is a restricted free agent, it won’t take much effort for the Falcons to retain him for a third year, but the team could seek an upgrade this offseason. Should they find one, the Falcons could just as easily not tender DiMarco a restricted tender, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Shanahan’s offenses over the years have preferred more physical lead blockers than DiMarco provides such as Washington’s Darrel Young and Houston’s Vonta Leach. The Falcons could potentially find such a player in free agency, with Jerome Felton (Minnesota), Henry Hynoski (N.Y. Giants), and John Conner (N.Y. Jets) available to sign. Green Bay’s John Kuhn is also a capable blocker, but is more known for his ability as a short-yardage runner and receiver. Former Seahawk Will Tukuafu might also be on the radar given his familiarity with Quinn.
Whether the Falcons look to pay a premium for a free agent, or seek a player in the draft remains to be seen. A year ago in Cleveland, the Browns had an open competition between undrafted rookie Ray Agnew and journeyman Mar’Queis Gray in training camp. Agnew was a more traditional fullback and won the job over Gray, a former quarterback and wide receiver in college that was seen as a versatile weapon. But Agnew struggled last season for the Browns and was cut midseason for Kiero Small. Small failed to be an upgrade and Agnew was brought back and finished an underwhelming season. That experience may have soured Shanahan on going with untested options at the position, which is why the Falcons might seek an upgrade via free agency.
But they could just as easily wait until the draft or after it to address the spot as well. If the Falcons do target a fullback in the draft, it’ll likely come in the late rounds. However based on past history with teams coached by Shanahan and Quinn, the chances the team drafts a fullback appear to be low. More than likely, they’d wait until after the draft to sign an undrafted free agent and have him push DiMarco in camp.
However the Falcons plan to attack it, at the very least the team will bring in stiffer competition to push DiMarco this summer if not outright replace him. If all goes well, then the Falcons will have a fullback clearing holes more akin to former Pro Bowler Ovie Mughelli than what has been seen the past few seasons.