Establishing a clearcut criteria for rating Tennessee fullbacks is impossible since the job description changed through the years to fit the attributes of the guy manning the position. When the Vols had a versatile fullback, they'd hand him the ball and throw him the ball. When they had a brute-force blocker, they'd run behind him all day long. When they had neither (see 2006 and 2007) they went with two tight ends.
I choose not to downgrade fullbacks who blocked for the ball-carrier without ever getting to BE the ball-carrier. I also choose not to downgrade fullbacks who were so-so blockers but contributed as runners and/or receivers. As long as you did something to help out, you're OK in my book.
Basically, what I'm saying is: Don't look for any rhyme or reason in my ratings of the Fulmer-era fullbacks because there is none. It's like choosing an ice cream flavor ... all a matter of taste.
After careful consideration, I've decided that the three best fullbacks of the Fulmer era are the Three Bs – Bryson, Brunson and Bartholomew. That said, here are my complete rankings of the Fulmer-era fullbacks:
1. Shawn Bryson (1997-98): Although he was merely average as a blocker, the 6-1, 220-pounder was a key figure in Tennessee's march to the 1998 national title. He carried 21 times for 200 yards (9.5 per carry) that season, with runs of 58 yards vs. Kentucky and 57 yards vs. Florida. He also finished fourth on the team with 19 receptions for 167 yards. Bryson's career stats include 91 carries for 505 yards (5.5 per carry) and 50 receptions for 484 yards (9.7 per catch).
2. Mario Brunson (1991-93): A two-time all-state guard in high school, Brunson's blocking prowess served him well at UT. In addition to opening holes for Charlie Garner and Little Man Stewart, the 6-1, 246-pound Brunson proved surprisingly adept at running the ball. He rushed 24 times for 72 yards as a sophomore, 32 times for 105 yards as a junior and six times for 18 yards as a senior. He never caught a pass in three years as a starter.
3. Will Bartholomew (2000-01): After rushing seven times for 34 yards (4.8 per carry) as a redshirt freshman on the '98 national championship team, the 6-0, 240-pounder carried just 13 times for 21 net yards the next three years. He kept busy by serving as lead blocker for Travis Henry (1,314 yards in 2000) and Travis Stephens (school-record 1,464 in 2001). Bartholomew also contributed as a receiver, catching 14 passes for 108 yards as a junior and 10 for 85 as a senior.
4. Troy Fleming (2002-03): A touted high school tailback, Fleming didn't exactly embrace the switch to fullback. Still, the 6-2, 230-pounder averaged 4.5 yards per carry on 67 carries his first three years with the Vols. He carried just 17 times for a mere 43 yards (2.5 per carry) as a senior but starred as a receiver that fall, catching 36 passes for 262 yards. He finished his career with a whopping 73 receptions. Fleming would be rated higher if he'd blocked with a little more enthusiasm.
5. Phillip Crosby (1999): After two years as chief backup to Shawn Bryson, Crosby won the starting job as a senior in '99. A punishing blocker, the 6-1, 243-pound juco transfer finished his three-year Vol career with 38 carries for 137 yards and 4 TDs.
6. Mose Phillips (1994): Splitting time between tailback and fullback, the 6-0, 221-pounder carried 128 times for 672 yards (5.1 average) and caught 37 passes for 421 yards (11.4 per catch) in his first three years on campus. Starting at fullback as a senior in '94, he rushed 44 times for 147 yards (3.3 per carry) and caught 17 passes for 145 yards (8.5 per catch). His 39-yard run with a screen pass at South Carolina in 1992 – a junket on which he broke eight tackles – remains one of the most amazing plays in UT history.
7. Chester Ford (1995-96): Used primarily as the lead blocker for Jay Graham, this 6-0, 228-pound converted defensive end wound up carrying 38 times for 111 yards in three years at fullback, the last two as a starter. He never caught a single pass.
8. Cory Anderson (2004-05): If you were going to draw up a fullback, this is what he'd look like. Blessed with good speed and agility for a 6-3, 265-pounder, Anderson had the potential to be a superstar. He flashed that potential in his first three years at UT, rushing 12 times for 73 yards (6.1 per carry) and grabbing 31 passes for 304 yards (9.8 per catch). Inexplicably, he became so inept in 2006 as a senior (1 carry for 1 yard, 3 catches for 11 yards) that Tennessee basically phased out the fullback position in favor of an extra tight end. Anderson is truly one of the most bizarre stories in recent UT history.