Denver Broncos On The Brink: Andy Janovich, Fullback

Chad Jensen is spotlighting young Broncos on the brink. But are they players on the brink of stardom or obscurity? Today, we focus on fullback Andy Janovich.

Second-year fullback Andy Janovich is in a precarious position. A year and some change removed from the Denver Broncos taking him in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, Janovich faces an uncertain future. 

Janovich was drafted to be the fullback in the West Coast Offense variant Gary Kubiak championed. Kubiak is gone, and with a new coaching staff and a new system in the Mile High City, there are real questions about whether Janovich still fits in with the Broncos. 

We'll address that particular issue later on. 

First, we must understand Janovich's path to the Broncos and analyze his impact as a rookie in 2016. He has a phenomenal football backstory. 

A walk-on at the University of Nebraska, Janovich earned a prominent role with the Cornhuskers due to his work ethic, physicality and willingness to participate on special teams. He appeared in 50 games, starting 10 at fullback. What was amazing about Janovich while at Nebraska was his special teams acumen. It was one of the attributes that endeared him to GM John Elway and the Broncos. 

Janovich led the Cornhuskers in special teams tackles as a senior, with 13. He also displayed soft hands and a knack for making big plays with the ball in his hands. 

You don't often see that in a fullback. At the pro level, the fullback position is a dying breed. But the way Janovich plays the position, and how versatile and well-rounded he is as a player and contributor, he's not your average, run-of-the-mill fullback. 

Janovich earned himself a spot on the 53-man roster our of training camp, and introduced himself to fans in a big way on opening night vs. the Carolina Panthers. Down by seven points early in the second quarter, the Broncos were struggling to get something cooking offensively, after turning the ball over in the first quarter. 

On a 3rd-&-1, Janovich was split out wide, but motioned into the I-formation. Expecting the handoff to go to halfback C.J. Anderson, the Panthers defense was deceived, as Janovich took the fullback dive, broke through the line, and rumbled on for a 28-yard touchdown. 

It was his first career carry and Denver's first touchdown of the 2016 season. It gave the team new life and a spark. The Broncos would go on to win that game, narrowly avoiding a loss when Panthers kicker Graham Gano missed what would have been a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. 

Janovich would only carry the ball three more times as a rookie for a total of five rushing yards. However, his biggest responsibility, and one he fulfilled with gusto, was serving as C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker's lead-blocker. 

The former Cornhusker was a proficient iso-blocker and while he was healthy, could be seen taking on linebackers in the hole to spring his ball-carriers to the second level. 

Although Denver's rushing attack was inconsistent, it worked best when Janovich was healthy and a part of the offense. He suffered a fractured hand in Denver's Week 7 victory over Houston, and played with a club-cast like a soldier. The fracture did not cause him to miss a game, but he wasn't as effective and couldn't be involved in the passing, or running game as a ball-carrier. 

Janovich's season was cut short, however, when he injured his ankle at home vs. the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12. The injury would require surgery. He spent the balance of 2016 on injured reserve. 

Before the hand injury, Janovich was used in the passing attack. He caught five passes for 44 yards. Below, you can see him used as a receiver out of the backfield on an 11-yard gain that picked up a new set of downs. 

Andy Janovich is a valuable player. But his position is slowly becoming obsolete. 

Denver's new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy could find some use for Janovich, but has traditionally deployed a spread offense with a single-back set in the rushing attack. McCoy has primarily used 12-personnel (2 TE set) to provide additional blocking, rather than a fullback. 

As head coach of the San Diego Chargers, McCoy did invest a sixth round pick in fullback Derek Watt last year, and although he wasn't heavily involved in the offense as a rookie, the team did carry him on the active roster all season. 

Like most savvy coaches, McCoy has a use for any player who can make himself useful. Andy Janovich, considering his versatility, physicality and motor, is such a guy. 

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Would I be shocked in Janovich doesn't make the team this year? No. 

The Broncos did invest a draft pick in running back De'Angelo Henderson and signed veteran Jamaal Charles. Including Anderson and Booker, that makes four running backs with a better than average shot at the roster. 

If Janovich is going to make this team, he'll have to shine on special teams. As a rookie, he averaged almost 17 special teams plays per game (while healthy) and made two tackles. 

The way I see it, Janovich is competing with the tight end group for a seat at the table this year. Denver has seven tight ends currently on the roster, including fifth-rounder Jake Butt, who is a lock to make the roster. 

I can see the roster math working out for Janovich in year two. But the Broncos will have to go light at another position group, in all likelihood, to justify a spot for a fullback. That deficiency will come at either the running back group, or the tight ends. 

Andy Janovich might literally be on the brink of obscurity, but he has a fighting chance to make an impact and a lasting impression on this new coaching staff. 

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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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