Fullback has become a semi-obsolete position in the NFL — or at least, it's been trending that way for the better part of the last decade. Much depends on the scheme, but there are a few teams out there who still need a full-time fullback, however, the herd has been significantly culled.
If you're a team who deploys a two-back set, odds are you're going to need a fullback. The Denver Broncos offense struggled mightily in 2015 — Peyton Manning's final season — and some analysts figured all that was needed to set Gary Kubiak's West Coast offense variant right was a true-blue fullback.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1770638-valuing-draft-position-gr... Denver fiddled with the position in Kubiak's first year, signing James Casey and the undrafted Joe Don Duncan to compete in training camp. Both players were tight ends first and neither one made the final cut. The Broncos tried running Kubiak's system with a single-back set predominantly.
It didn't work out well offensively, although the season did culminate in the Broncos winning Super Bowl 50. Still, with Manning retired and Kubiak able to fully install his offensive vision, the Broncos set about the process of scouting the top fullbacks in the 2016 NFL Draft class.
GM John Elway waited until the first pick of the sixth round, taking the first fullback off the board. The pick was former Nebraska Cornhuskers walk-on Andy Janovich. Two other fullbacks were taken later on in the sixth round — Dan Vitale and Derek Watt.
Most fullbacks who fight to earn a roster spot in the NFL never hear their name called on Draft Day. Andy Janovich did. And the first fullback taken, no less. A gym rat with a maniacal work ethic and a penchant for making magic with the ball in his hands, Janovich arrived at the Mile High City ready to compete for a roster spot.
He immediately stepped in as Denver's first-team fullback and never looked back. Adding to Janovich's roster value was his ability and willingness to contribute on special teams. He led his team in his final year at Nebraska with 13 special teams tackles.
As a pro, it didn't take long for Janovich to make an impact. As the Broncos battled the Carolina Panthers in a rare opening night rematch of the previous year's Super Bowl, Janovich took a simple fullback dive 28 yards to the house.
It was his first carry as a pro and it tied the game up at 7, giving the Broncos the spark they needed to ultimately emerge victorious 21-20. Janovich would go on to carry the ball just three more times for a total of five yards on the season. But he served as C.J. Anderson's and fellow rookie Devontae Booker's lead-blocker, taking on linebackers to open holes and spring the ball-carriers to the second level.
Janovich also has very soft hands for a fullback and a knack for making plays with the ball. As a rookie, he chipped in five receptions for 44 yards.
Unfortunately, Janovich's rookie season was hampered by the injury bug. He fractured his right hand in a Week 7 victory over Houston, and would suit up for several weeks with a club cast on.
His season ultimately was cut short after he suffered a severe ankle injury vs. Kansas City in Week 12 and was placed on injured reserve. The way his rookie season ended was certainly disappointing, but for a rookie sixth-round fullback, Janovich made an impact.
Denver's running game struggled mightily in the second half of the season, and without Janovich iso-blocking linebackers, the rushing attack fell off dramatically down the stretch with the exception of one game (Week 17). Janovich appeared in 11 games (five starts), seeing a total of 235 offensive snaps (31 percent) and 186 special teams snaps (56.7 percent) as a rookie.
Looking ahead, it's hard to know for sure where and how Janovich fits in. Kubiak and his system are gone, but new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy values the fullback position. It was his Chargers who selected the third fullback in the 2016 Draft (Derek Watt).
Honestly, I like Janovich's chances of sticking around in Denver. Not only can he be deployed as a lead-blocker in a two-back set, but McCoy can use him as a receiver out of the backfield and with Kayvon Webster and Dekoda Watson both gone, the Broncos will need as much help on special teams as they can get.
A lot depends on how Denver's draft haul shakes out, but Janovich will have an immense opportunity to make the 53-man roster once again. I was lukewarm on the Janovich pick in 2016, only because I felt like Denver could have procured a viable fullback in the undrafted ranks but one year removed, considering his impact as a rookie, it looks like a sixth round pick well spent.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.