It was the battle of Ohio to open week 2 of the NFL season as the Browns hosted Joe Burrow and the Bengals. This match up was about much more than who would come out on top.
Fullbacks are the sacrificial lambs of their offence, and unfortunately in the modern game, the position has almost become obsolete. The fullback is officially a dying breed.
Usually lined up in the backfield next to or in front of the halfback, the fullback’s primary assignment is to be the lead blocker, creating holes and running lanes for the halfback. They are also used in goal-line situations to punch the ball through into the end zone due to their strength and power.
Who doesn’t love watching the big boys run the football or lay brutal hits on defenders? On average, the fullback weighs 125kg and is a human wrecking ball. They are a hybrid, a cross between an offensive lineman and a running back.
In today’s game, the best fullbacks are the Atlanta Falcons’ Patrick DiMarco, second year fullback Jalston Fowler from the Tennessee Titans, and Marcel Reece, who was recently released by the Oakland Raiders.
Reece was delisted in late September and is still a free agent. A player of his calibre would have been claimed off the waivers if he played in a different position. Sadly, fullbacks are slowly becoming extinct.
One of the most famous halfback and fullback combinations was the Dallas Cowboys’ duo Emmitt Smith and Daryl ‘Moose’ Johnston. Johnston paved the way for Smith’s NFL Hall of Fame career, as he became the NFL’s leading rusher with 18,355 yards from scrimmage.
Winning three Super Bowls for the dominant Dallas Cowboys in the 1990’s, Smith and Johnston will go down as the best halfback and fullback pair in the NFL’s history. Smith speaks highly of his fullback, telling SportsDay, “We both liked battling and taking on giants. I understand what he sacrificed for me, and I have no words for it.”
Smith would not be the league’s leading rusher if wasn’t for Johnston.
In the modern game, during goal-line situations, you will often see an offensive lineman or tight end in the backfield to open up holes for halfbacks instead of a fullback. These days, not many NFL teams use fullbacks in their schemes.
The Arizona Cardinals do not even have a fullback on their roster.
Making this more interesting is the fact that the fullback has scored the first rushing touchdown of the season for three straight years.
Each team has different strengths and weaknesses on their roster. Modern offences are opting for twin tight end sets, using them as blockers in the backfield in lieu of the fullback. Last season no team had a fullback on the field for more than half of their offensive snaps.
Never again will we see the comradery and friendship that Smith and Johnston enjoyed.
And for those old school fans, the fullback may become a distant memory.