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Why NFL Teams Are Dumb to Draft Fullbacks

April 15th, 2014 No comments

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The “failure” of Bradie Ewing should be a lesson for the Falcons

It’s been for some time that I’ve held the belief that NFL teams are foolish to use draft picks on fullbacks. That’s largely because it’s a dying position in the NFL and teams are better served trying to draft a player that has a much greater chance of adding value to the roster.

That doesn’t mean that fullbacks lack value, but there is little evidence that teams gain additional value by using a draft pick on the position as opposed to waiting until signing a player in undrafted free agency or off the street.

The Atlanta Falcons have been a good example of this in recent years, utilizing a fifth-round pick on Bradie Ewing in 2012. Ewing was drafted the year after the team was forced to play Mike Cox at the position following a season-ending injury to long-time lead blocker Ovie Mughelli in 2011. Cox performed ably, although he was a far cry from a fully healthy Mughelli. But the Falcons decided that they wanted to utilize a pick on Ewing the following spring, and it did not pay off for them.

Ewing missed his rookie season with an injury, and the team was forced to go with Cox for another year. He did a solid job, but the team decided to part ways with him again to give Ewing another shot. But Ewing had another injury-riddled season in 2013, and the team brought in Patrick DiMarco to replace him. Like Cox, DiMarco filled in ably for the Falcons.

Now the Falcons are potentially in the same position in 2014 to try and address their fullback position in the draft. With ten picks slated for the team in 2014, it would seem the odds are pretty good that one of them will be a lead blocker given that DiMarco is the only player on the roster.

So I’m writing this as a warning to the team. Don’t do it! Don’t draft a fullback!

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Categories: Draft Central Tags: , , , ,

Questions Remain at Fullback

August 11th, 2012 Comments off

The injury to Bradie Ewing, while not devastating to the Falcons offense, it certainly doesn’t leave it in good shape. The Falcons made the decision to part ways with Ovie Mughelli in May, thanks in large part due to his advanced age and hefty pricetag. They wanted to get younger at the position, and their plans were embodied in Ewing, a player they envisioned growing into a top-notch lead blocker similar to how Mughelli had been the past four years.

But now Ewing is done for the year, and next year will be coming off a more severe knee injury than Mughelli was attempting this year. Mughelli is now with the Rams and they hope there he opens holes for Steven Jackson as well as he did for Michael Turner here in Atlanta.

It’s interesting to gauge how much this will affect the Falcons offense. For the first part of the 2011 season, Mughelli played on a bum knee and it was clear that he was not nearly the same as a blocker. And while Mike Cox was able to fill in competently, it was clear that he was not anywhere close to the Pro Bowl player that Ovie was a year before.

Last year, Cox had 110 total run blocking opportunities (per Pro Football Focus) and ended up with 10 key blocks, making for a percentage of 9.1%. That is essentially equal to the percentage that Mughelli had in 2010, where on 280 run blocking opportunities, he finished with 25.5 key blocks. That was an improvement from Mughelli earlier in the season, who had a key block percentage of around 6.5% (6 key blocks on 93 opportunities). The issue with Cox last year was how often he missed he blocks. He missed a total of 5.5 blocks, for a percentage of 5.0%. That was a decline from Mughelli in 2011 (3.2%), but a huge decrease from Ovie in previous years, where in 2010 his missed block percentage was at 2.1%, and 0.4% in 2009.

The other interesting stat is looking at Turner’s own production when working out of the I-formation. Here are the numbers from the past four seasons:

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Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 15 “Ryan Hates the Avengers”

May 16th, 2012 Comments off

Recorded on May 7, Ryan and I are back to talk some Falcons including the impact of some of the Falcons newly acquired rookies and free agents, as well as Brent Grimes contract status. But mainly it’s our time to discuss some non-football topics including NBA playoffs, professional wrestling, and Ryan’s thoughts on The Avengers. There are some movie spoilers for the nine of you out there that have yet to see the movie, so if you want to avoid getting spoiled, skip ahead to about the 16-minute mark of the podcast. Hope you enjoy it and we’ll be back with some more Falcon-centric episodes in the near future.

Ep. 15: Ryan Hates the Avengers [Download]

Duration: 55 minutes

 

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop Ryan an e-mail at: ryan-valdez@live.com. Don’t forget to drop by every week to hear our live broadcast at: justin.tv/didziojo

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Categories: Podcast Tags: , , ,

Falcons cut Mughelli

May 8th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons announced today that Ovie Mughelli was released from the team. Rumors of Ovie’s eventual departure began the moment the team used a fifth round pick on Bradie Ewing in last month’s draft. Ovie’s release is by no means a surprise, as it was predicted as a possibility way back in January on this site, but it is unfortunate given the timing. Per the AJC, he was cleared to return to practice this past Friday. And had the team decided to cut him at any point in the past 8 weeks since free agency began, it could have given him more opportunities to find a landing spot with another team and a potential starting position.

Mughelli was signed by the Falcons in 2007 to what was at the time the most lucrative deal ever given to a fullback. Although, Bobby Petrino’s offense made minimal use of that position, and thus Mughelli languished on that team during the Falcons poor season. With the introduction of Mike Smith, Mike Mularkey, and Michael Turner to the offense, Mughelli’s value increased a hundredfold. Over the course of the next three seasons, Mughelli staked out a reputation as one of the league’s top fullbacks and lead blockers in the league, culminating in him being voted to the Pro Bowl in 2010. In 2011, Mughelli suffered a knee injury in the season opener against the Chicago Bears. The injury limited him in subsequent games before he was forced to be shut down for the season at the end of October.

Categories: News Tags: , ,

Ewing’s addition should not spell end for Ovie

April 29th, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Ovie Mughelli

The Falcons used a fifth round pick on Saturday to take Wisconsin fullback Bradie Ewing. And it caused a lot of speculation that Ovie Mughelli’s tenure as an Atlanta Falcon will come to an end. And while that is certainly a possibility, given Ovie’s age (32), the fact that he’s coming off a knee injury, and cutting him can clear about $3 million off the Falcons 2012 salary cap. But if the Falcons are looking to make the best football decision, then keeping Mughelli is a must.

I’ve been vocal in the past about Michael Turner’s potential to have a detrimental effect on the Falcons offense. A big part of that is that Turner and Mughelli are tied at the hip. When Turner has big games, it almost always coincides with Ovie having big games as a blocker. The pair have worked together for four years, and much like the relationship between a quarterback and a wide out goes the relationship between a tailback and his lead blocker.

The Falcons are intent on keeping Turner, and having Mughelli block for him is the best strategy to getting the most out of Turner in 2012. While Ewing is a solid lead blocker, as a rookie he’s not likely to add significantly more value as a starter than Mike Cox would. Ewing just is not a physical, smashmouth pile-clearing lead blocker that Ovie is. And that style of football has made Turner one of the more productive runners over the past four seasons, and earned Ovie a reputation for being the league’s top blocking fullback alongside Vonta Leach.

Ovie’s knee injury is a concern, but unlikely to have lingering effects. All reports indicate that Ovie suffered an MCL tear which is not nearly as grievous as an ACL tear. In fact, most often MCL tears do not require surgery to properly heal, although Ovie did undergo season-ending surgery last season.

And while Ovie’s age might seem to indicate he is nearing the end, giving the longevity that other Pro Bowl fullbacks like Mack Strong (last season was at age 36), William Henderson (35), Lorenzo Neal (38), and Tony Richardson (39) in the past decade, there’s no reason to expect that Ovie has several years left in the tank.

As for the money issue, given that Ovie is entering the final year of his contract, the Falcon could easily lower his cap hit by adding another year to the deal. Ovie has a 2012 cap hit of $3.733 million, with $3 million of that being base salary. As a 10th year veteran, the minimum salary is $925,000. If the Falcons were to lower his 2012 base salary to $925,000, and add another year in 2013 for the same price, and then convert the difference ($3 million – $925,000 = $2.075 million) into a signing bonus, they could almost nearly cut Ovie’s 2012 cap hit in half. The savings of nearly $1.8 million would allow a much more palatable contract for the Falcons to handle this season.

Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

New Nickname for Turner Should be “Black Hole”

February 26th, 2012 1 comment
AP from Yahoo! Sports

Michael Turner

I was disappointed to read that Mike Smith indicated that Michael Turner would remain in Atlanta as their feature back. I’m not at all surprised, but nonetheless disappointed. It would have been a bold move to cut a player coming off a 1300-yard rushing season, but I think it would be the most prudent move.

I think despite Turner’s production last year, I think he’s poised to have a sharp drop in his production this year. His play last year reminded me a lot of Jamal Lewis in 2007 with the Cleveland Browns. That year, Lewis finished with 1,304 yards, 4.4 yards per carry and 9 touchdowns. Much of that production came in a few games, racking up 308 yards in two outings against the Bengals, as well as 163 yards against the Bills, 118 against the Jets, and 134 yards against the Texans. The following year at age 29, Lewis struggled, plodding his way to a 1,002-yard season, but only averaging 3.6 yards per carry and finishing with 4 touchdowns. I mention some of those strong performances Lewis had in 2007 because they came against some of the league’s weaker run defenses that year.

Turner’s production from this past year mirrors that with some strong performances against some of the league’s weaker run defenses, notably teams like Carolina, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, and New Orleans.

Turner just turned 30 nearly two weeks ago, and many will say that he’s a relatively young 30 because he didn’t get a lot of carries in his early to mid 20s. But just because they say it, doesn’t make it true. When you watch Turner, he moves like a guy that is 30 years old. The Falcons potentially open themselves up to having a 2008 Jamal Lewis-type year where Turner just plods his way to a high rushing total despite being very lackluster in doing so.

Smith indicates that the team will make strides to keep Turner’s “pitch count” down by trying to work in the other backs. But the best way to limit Turner’s pitch count is probably to eliminate him from the roster altogether.

The problem with Turner is not that he can’t be sporadically an effective player anymore because he’s a black hole. Now what exactly do I mean by that? A black hole is often considered one of the most destructive forces in the universe because it’s extremely high gravity sucks in everything and utterly destroys it.

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Categories: Features Tags: ,

Cap casualties could help Falcons

February 24th, 2012 Comments off
ICON SMI

Marcus McNeill

Every year just before the start of free agency, you have a number of veteran players get cut by their respective teams because they are either too old, too hurt, or too expensive to keep. These players are often labeled cap casualties, and can supplement the normal unrestricted free agent pool that we see every March.

The Falcons will have their own players that could be dumped in this fashion. Michael Turner, Ovie Mughelli, Sam Baker, Peria Jerry, and Dunta Robinson are all players that are under contract and the topic has at least been broached that they have seen their last games as Falcons. In all likelihood the Falcons will keep most if not all of those players simply because they don’t need the cap space as reports indicate roughly $30 million available to the Falcons. And for those that are underachieving such as Baker, Jerry, and Robinson, there is some hope that the changes in the coaching staff can breath new life into their careers in Atlanta.

Here are some names that have been bandied about in recent weeks as potential cap cuts from other teams that could at least be interesting to the Falcons. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of players that could be cut, but just some more of the prominent names and fits I could find. A hat tip goes to Jason La Canfora of NFL.com and Brian McIntyre of Football Outsiders that were my primary sources.

Running Back

The Falcons appear intent on keeping Michael Turner, so this doesn’t appear to be an area that they will likely address. But if the Falcons were to part ways with Turner and look for a veteran physical back to team with Jacquizz Rodgers, Brandon Jacobs (Giants) could be a possibility. Jacobs at this point in his career is a part-time player, but as he showed against the Falcons in the playoffs and down the stretch, he can be very effective in that role.

Wide Receiver

If you could rewind five years, this list would feature some of the league’s top wide receivers with Hines Ward (Steelers), Chad Ochocinco (Patriots), Lee Evans (Ravens), and Donald Driver (Packers) all being potentially on the chopping block this off-season. The Falcons have already been linked to Ward by some outlets, but he is a shell of his former self. He along with Driver could make effective veteran slot options if the Falcons were to lose Harry Douglas via free agency, but neither offer as much value as Douglas does at these points in their careers. Ochocinco and Evans have a bit more left in the tank, and could definitely help the Falcons add a third wideout that can get vertical. Evan was supposed to serve that same role with the Ravens last year, but only caught 4 passes in 9 games. Ochocinco couldn’t handle the complex Patriots offense (15 catches), but he still has enough skill to be a starter on some team in this league. And playing in a decidedly less complex offense like the one likely to be employed in Atlanta could help him improve his production.

Tight End

Dirk Koetter’s offense makes ample use of the H-back position, a role that would likely be currently filled by Michael Palmer. But the Falcons could potentially upgrade that spot by going after one of these names in Chris Cooley (Redskins), Dallas Clark (Colts), or Kellen Winslow (Buccaneers). Cooley and Winslow are both dealing with knee injuries that could definitely limit their effectiveness. Clark was practically a no-show for much of the Colts season with the loss of Peyton Manning. Cooley and Clark could work very well in an H-back role, being split out in space much like a slot receiver. Winslow if he can rebound potentially offers the team an heir apparent to Tony Gonzalez, who is expected to retire after this season.

Offensive Tackle

The Falcons have already been linked to Marcus McNeill, who could be cut by the Chargers due to lingering back and neck problems. Injury concerns and age will also likely cause the Packers to cut Chad Clifton as well. While McNeill will only be 28, his injuries probably make his body seem closer that of the 35-year old Clifton. Clifton is not a long-term fix, but as a one-year solution even if he only played half the season would be 8 better games than what the Falcons have gotten out of the position in recent years. Also in the mix could be Jason Smith, who has disappointed in St. Louis, but might still be a salvageable talent. Right tackles Jammal Brown (Redskins) and Winston Justice (Eagles) might also be cut this off-season due to making more money than their production merits. Brown was once a solid left tackle for the Saints, before injuries have sapped him the past few years.

Offensive Guard

Steve Hutchinson (Vikings), Eric Steinbach (Browns), and Chris Kemoeatu (Steelers) all could be cut. All three are left guards, but could offer a quick fix at the right guard position for the Falcons. Hutchinson was the top guard in the league for years, but at age 34 might only have another year left in the tank. Kemoeatu could offer a beefy run blocker, but struggled through this past year with a bum knee and penalties. Steinbach missed all of this past year with a back injury, which never bodes well for offensive linemen.

Defensive End

While it seems doubtful, the Colts could part ways with Dwight Freeney. If so, Freeney still offers a lot of value as a pass rusher. But if the Falcons are content to let John Abraham walk via free agency, replacing him with a 32-year old Freeney would not be a significant infusion of youth. Aaron Kampman has been injured a lot in Jacksonville, but could provide a veteran presence to the rotation if the Falcons were to lose Abraham and potentially Kroy Biermann as well. Darryl Tapp (Eagles) is a good run defender and decent pass rusher that can be an effective starter if need be, but ideally is a No. 3 end on most teams.

Defensive Tackle

It doesn’t seem like the Lions will part ways with 31-year old Corey Williams, but it’s been rumored. He would be a good pickup to the Falcons rotation, as he’s shined over the years as a situational rusher on third downs. Tommy Kelly (Raiders) is the same age and has been a solid pass rusher over the years (14.5 sacks combined the past two years) that could be a really good asset in nickel situations for the Falcons. His teammate John Henderson could beef up the rotation as a stout run defender. He’s on his last legs, but could potentially provide more value as a run defender on early downs, which could allow a young guy like Corey Peters to do what he does best: rush the quarterback.

Linebacker

The Panthers might part ways with Thomas Davis, who is coming off three ACL tears. If he manages to even play in 2012, it might be unprecedented achievement. But Davis offers much of what this team needs at the linebacker position, which is someone that can help combat the quality tight ends in the league, and in this division. The Panthers were the league’s worst team with defending the tight end in 2011, and a big reason was the absence of Davis. Gary Brackett (Colts) might be cut if the Colts do intend to employ a different scheme. He would be a nice pickup for the Falcons if they lose Curtis Lofton in the middle.

Defensive Back

A number of veterans are likely to get cut here. Domonique Foxworth (Ravens) is a former Falcon that has struggled to stay healthy in Baltimore, but is only 28 and still might have some years left ahead of him. Ron Bartell (Rams) offers that big, physical corner that Mike Nolan’s defenses tend to prefer but he’ll have to prove he can stay healthy. Shawntae Spencer (49ers) played under Nolan in San Francisco, and he along with Terence Newman (Cowboys) and Marcus Trufant (Seahawks) are veterans that could help out at nickel. But it remains to be seen if any of those guys would be better options for the Falcons than just re-signing a player like Kelvin Hayden. Cedric Griffin (Vikings) is fast and physical and could be a nice pickup.

As for safeties, Michael Huff (Raiders) is a former teammate of Griffin’s at Texas, that also brings a lot of speed and athletic ability to that position. He could be a nice pickup as a replacement and potential upgrade over Thomas DeCoud at free safety.

It’s also worth mentioning that while they aren’t expected to be cut, cornerback Asante Samuel (Eagles) and defensive end Osi Umenyiora (Giants) appear headed for the trading block. Considering the Falcons have a finite amount of draft picks, it’s doubtful they would get heavily involved in courting either, particularly Samuel. The Falcons defense prides itself on being physical, and Samuel is anything but that as a cornerback. But he is still one of the premier ball-hawks in the league, and coupling him with a successfully re-signed Brent Grimes could be a potent mix. Umenyiora might be a bit more up the Falcons alley. He’s 30, which makes him a few years younger than either Freeney or Abraham and thus probably has a bit more left in the tank. The issue with him is whether he can give the Falcons a full slate of games. He missed 7 games this past year with injury. Also, Osi isn’t exactly known for his ability to defend the run. The same could have been said for John Abraham prior to joining the Falcons, and he improved, so that might not be as big an obstacle as initially perceived.

Fullbacking Future

January 24th, 2012 Comments off

ICON SMI

Is Ovie done in Atlanta?

To be honest, when I wrote up the free agent focus article on the running back position, I completely ignored the fullback position. It was an error on my part because it’s a position that is often overlooked, but in the case of the Falcons it certainly will be worth watching this off-season.

New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter by many accounts prefers to use more two-tight end sets rather than using the traditional fullback position. But from what I’ve read, it seemed that in Jacksonville Greg Jones was so good as a lead blocker that he couldn’t really phase him out like he normally would. For much of the Mike Smith/Mike Mularkey Era, Ovie Mughelli has widely been considered the best or one of the best lead blockers in the game. But that all changed last year. If I’m not mistaken, Mughelli injured his knee early against the Bears (perhaps on the opening kickoff), but proceeded to continue playing with the injury until he was placed on injured reserve in October. That injury could explain why Mughelli was largely ineffective as a lead blocker through the first month or so of the season. Or it could be age starting to catch up with him. But Mughelli was only 31 this past year, and other top fullbacks similar to him like Lorenzo Neal, William Henderson, Mack Strong, and Tony Richardson were able to continue playing at a high level into the mid-to-late thirties.

But all of this raises questions about his future with the team. Mughelli is coming off season-ending knee surgery, entering the final year of his contract which will pay him $3 million in base salary. That’s a hefty price to pay for a fullback, even one as good as Mughelli. Especially if the Falcons shake up the running back position as much as they potentially could.

Part of the equation will be how the Falcons felt about Mughelli’s replacement, Mike Cox. Cox will be a free agent, and he certainly had his moments as a lead blocker, but he certainly didn’t come close to playing at the level that Ovie has been known to play at over the years. But if Koetter intends to minimize the role of the lead blocker, then it’s probably smarter to go with a cheap but solid guy like Cox, rather than the more expensive Mughelli. One certainly expects that Cox can be re-signed for considerably less than the $3 million the team would be paying Ovie. Retaining Jason Snelling also would give them another alternative option.

The Falcons also need help at tight end, and likely will target some young guy in the draft to groom as the heir apparent to Tony Gonzalez. And it will be interesting to see if they target someone that is more of an H-back type than your traditional inline tight end. If that is the case, then it would de-emphasize Mughelli’s role and value as well.

At this point, I would probably be pleasantly surprised if Ovie Mughelli returns to the Falcons in 2012. Just the sheer combination of age, injury, salary, and the fact that the team has two decent alternatives in Cox and Snelling, probably puts Ovie behind the eight ball. I would personally love to see him return because I still think a healthy Ovie can be a very effective player on this team and within this offense. But I can certainly understand if the Falcons brass decide to move in a different direction.

Falcons add Cox and Chambers, place Johnson on IR

October 25th, 2011 Comments off

The Falcons announced that they signed fullback Mike Cox and offensive tackle Kirk Chambers to take the roster spots of fullback Ovie Mughelli and guard Mike Johnson, who were placed on injured reserve today.

Cox played three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, making the team first as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia Tech in 2008. He started for two seasons as their fullback, but split reps last year with Tim Castille. He was cut by the Chiefs at the end of this past summer’s camp. In three seasons with the Chiefs, Cox started 17 of 39 games, rushed 4 times for 3 yards and a touchdown, and also caught 22 passes. He is also the elder brother of Lucas Cox, a rookie free agent with the Falcons this past summer.

Cox was chosen among several free agent fullbacks that worked out with the team today. Per D. Orlando Ledbetter, along with Mike Karney and Jason McKie, the Falcons also worked out Lousaka Polite, and ex-Falcons Verron Haynes and Dimitri Nance.

The Falcons will be Chambers’ fifth NFL team. He was with the Detroit Lions this past summer, but was cut at the end of training camp. He finished the 2010 season with the Cincinnati Bengals, however was inactive for 6 out of the 7 weeks he was on the roster. He joined the Bengals after being released by the Bills at the end of the 2010′s training camp after playing three seasons in Buffalo. There, he started a total of 14 games in that span, filling at both tackle positions, as well as spending time at guard. Prior to joining the Bills before the 2007 season, he played two years with the Cleveland Browns, where he appeared in 21 games as a reserve guard and tackle. He was originally a 6th round pick by the Browns in the 2004 draft out of Stanford. Chambers versatility makes him an ideal reserve because he’s started, played, or practiced at all line positions except center. The bulk of his career however, he has played tackle.

Johnson, a third round pick by the Falcons in 2010, lost a competition with Garrett Reynolds for the starting right guard spot this past summer after suffering a concussion early on in camp. He had only appeared in the past two games of this year on special teams.

Categories: News Tags: , , , , ,

Mughelli to go on IR

October 25th, 2011 Comments off
ICON SMI

Mughelli celebrates vs. Carolina

Jay Glazer of FOX Sports tweets that the Falcons are going to place fullback Ovie Mughelli on injured reserve due to the knee injury he suffered on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. The exact nature of Mughelli’s knee injury has yet to be disclosed. Earlier reports suggested that Mughelli’s season would not end. Per Zach Klein of WSBTV, Mughelli suffered a torn MCL, which is an injury that is rarely treated with surgery, and is known to be able to heal fully inside 6 weeks.

The Falcons brought in two free agent fullbacks: Mike Karney and Jason McKie today for workouts during their bye week.

Jason Snelling likely will be the team’s first option to replace Mughelli in the starting lineup. But if they sign one of those players, it might not be long before they are inserted in the lineup. The Falcons have also made ample use of the two-tight end set in past games where Mughelli has been limited, likely meaning more reps for backup tight ends Michael Palmer and Reggie Kelly.

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