This month, we've been taking a brief and early look at some of the potential solutions that could provide offseason upgrades for the Jets in each position. Today, we continue with a look at the fullback position:
During the offseason last year, Jets running back coach Stump Mitchell was insistent that the fullback position was important to the Jets offensive system and that they would have a productive player in that role.
In training camp, Julian Howsare and Anthony Firkser were battling for the roster spot and later joined by Algie Brown. However, all three were cut and the Jets seemingly entered the season without a fullback, although they would often put their tight ends in the backfield to block instead.
To everyone's surprise, the Jets gradually introduced defensive tackle Lawrence Thomas back into to the fullback role he had once played in college and he made the full-time switch after a few weeks. Thomas made a few catches and did an effective job as a lead blocker early on, but once teams were more prepared for him, his effectiveness waned and his playing time fell off.
The offensive scheme will change with Rick Dennison as the new running game coordinator so the fullback position could become a priority again. Thomas is an exclusive rights free agent, but the team might seek to upgrade or at least bring in some competition.
There's a few established fullbacks that are available on the free agent market this year, starting off in New Orleans where veteran John Kuhn got injured early in the year but 28-year old Zach Line stepped in and helped lead one of the league's best running attacks. Both are out of contract, although Kuhn may be set to retire.
Mike Tolbert has played for Dennison in the past, so may be another option, although he's really more of a tailback who sometimes acts in a fullback role rather than a traditional lead blocker.
Former pro bowler Anthony Sherman of the Chiefs is also out of contract, as is Derrick Coleman of the Falcons. Coleman grades out poorly as a blocker but adds value on special teams.
There aren't many fullbacks who are viewed as likely to be drafted but it could still be a position that a team like the Jets might seek to address in the late rounds or with an undrafted free agent.
Dimitri Flowers is regarded as the top pure fullback by most draft experts and has shown off some playmaking ability as one of Baker Mayfields pass catching options with the Sooners. He had a 75-yard touchdown catch as a sophomore.
Other potentially draftable fullbacks include Nick Bawden from San Diego State and Khalid Hill from Michigan. Bawden led the way for Donnel Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny over the last two seasons and is also adept at staying in to pass protect. Hill is a useful short yardage back, who had 10 touchdown runs in 2016 but was less effective in 2017.
Some sites have Oregon State's Ryan Nall and Texas' Chris Warren listed as fullback prospects. However, both played halfback last year and lack experience as lead blockers. At 6'4" and 250 pounds, Warren seems more like a Brandon Jacobs-style big back and Nall is probably better in the halfback role too. It will be interesting to see how they measure up and fare in workouts over the next few weeks.
Two possibilities that could be good value if they go undrafted are JD Moore from LSU and Nick Sharga from Temple. Sharga's special teams ability and Temple connection make him likely to be someone the Jets would look at.
One final possibility worth mentioning is NC States Jaylen Samuels because he's been listed as a fullback in some places. Samuels played a varied role in 2017, but was more likely to be a running back or tight end than a receiver or fullback, although he would sometimes be in the slot or in motion.
In trying to come up with a comparison for Samuels, who is listed at 5'11" and 223 pounds, he'd be more of a smaller version of Peyton Hillis than an undersized tight end or multi-faceted utility player like Percy Harvin. Again, his combine numbers will be interesting, but he doesn't seem like a viable replacement for a player like Thomas.
How would you approach this position? Is there anyone out there you'd target who we didn't mention? Let's have your thoughts in the comments.