Cleveland could return to using a fullback in 2020 on a regular basis, which would not only help the offense but potentially could also help the defense.
Nothing truly changes. Life ebbs and flows. What was old is now new, and what was new is now old. Gimmicks become standards and standards become gimmicks. Yet there always seems to be a reason to return to yesterday. In today’s NFL, there might as well not even be a defense anymore. The rules, much like the NBA, have been changed over the last two decades to allow for more high scoring game. Which means there’s really no difference between a top 5 defense and a top 15 defense anymore.
Sure, there are plenty of defenses over the years that have bucked the trend and became great. Great, however, for their era. That said, because of defensive futility in the modern era, an idea has crept back into the football zeitgeist. Running the damn ball.
The running game is back in vogue thanks to teams like Baltimore, Buffalo, and Tennessee. While the league still demands an “elite” quarterback, those three teams all amassed winning records by leading with the run and protecting their quarterback’s shortcomings. For Buffalo and Baltimore, their quarterback is ultra-athletic but has accuracy issues. In Tennessee, it was navigating the shortcomings of a quarterback who struggled to put it all together.
In Cleveland, new head coach Kevin Stefanski is bringing in his pattened run-first offense. With starting quarterback Baker Mayfield’s struggles last season, focusing on the run would be a great idea. Mayfield is not a bad quarterback by any means. Easily a top 15, possibly a top 10 player. The problem with Mayfield isn’t his accuracy or arm strength, it’s this constant nagging desire to ALWAYS make a play. Bolstering the run game with a second running back (who isn’t a headcase) and a fullback would help running back Nick Chubb reach Deity Mode as a player and reduce the stress on Mayfield.
Herein lies why the fullback is so important. With a lead blocker for Chubb, Chubb takes less pounding, is able to reach the secondary more efficiently, and gets to go all Cookie Monster on their arm-talking-rear ends. The added bonus is having a player who can create space in the flats for short gains in the passing game, or even have a secondary runner. Now everyone will go “BLAH BLAH BLAH KAREEM HUNT CAN DO THAT BLAH BLAH”.
Yet, Hunt’s not a great blocker. Nor is he someone who’s attitude leads one to believe that he’d be able to take a backup role or a secondary role on a team. Hence a fullback. They aren’t the clueless, sausage fingered players of the ’80s. Men like Larry Centers, Mike Alsott, and even Peyton Hillis all showed amazing ability to advance the line of scrimmage beyond just running the ball.
The Browns haven’t had a great fullback since Lawrence Vickers. Someone like A.J. Dillion from Boston College or Brady Ross from Purdue could be had either in the draft or just after. Even pursuing L.A.’s Derek Watt is a viable option.
Adding a fullback can slow down the game, and in today’s NFL, the best offense is a really slow offense. Don’t believe it? That’s what Tennessee did to Baltimore and will try to do again to Kansas City. Slowing down a high powered offense is the only way to truly defend against it anymore. The game favors the Aaron Rodgers’ and Patrick Mahomes’ types more than ever. The only way to take them out of the game is to literally keep them out of the game.