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NFL Scouting Combine Research: Fullbacks

Five fullbacks have been invited to the Scouting Combine, led by one with a famous last name.

Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State (6-2, 238): Underclassman. The brother of All-Pro Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was the Wildcats’ primary fullback for all three seasons. He was second-team all-conference in 2015, first team in 2014 and honorable mention in 2013. Plus, he earned conference academic honors all three years. In 39 career games (20 starts), he rushed 16 times for 51 yards and one touchdown and caught 15 passes and averaged 24.6 yards per grab — the highest in school history among players with at least 15 grabs. He turned nine of those catches into gains of at least 15 yards. In 2015, he had an 11-yard touchdown run, a 4-yard touchdown catch and a 4-yard touchdown pass. The touchdown pass made his famous brother jealous. “He said he had to tell his coaches to let him try that play now, or at least give him the opportunity to throw a pass. So, we’ll see if they let him do it. Hopefully not.” Not that he’s a bad blocker but versatility is his calling card. “I consider myself more of a hybrid player than just a fullback. I do a little bit of everything. We have tried a bunch of different things in practice the last couple years, and we could probably do more. I have no problem lining up running back, tight end or fullback. We have tried it all.” All four of his brothers are (or were) pro athletes — Rob, Dan and Chris played in the NFL and Gordie played baseball in the Angels’ organization. "Doesn't bother me," Glenn said about the weight of his family name. "I've seen them all work hard first-hand. Just to be part of this family is awesome — they definitely deserve everything they have. The people we are, we love having fun -- always nice to each other and we're never in trouble with the law. Just to be a part of a family like that, it's something special."

Quayvon Hicks, Georgia (6-1, 251): As a senior, Hicks led the way as the Bulldogs ran for 2,500 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. He carried the ball four times for 9 yards and caught three passes for 34 yards. He added 85 rushing yards and two touchdowns as a junior and 72 rushing yards as a sophomore. As a junior, he was voted the team’s most versatile player as he played fullback, tight end and H-back. As a senior, he became the in-case-of-emergency tailback due to injuries at the position, though the coaches didn’t have to break the glass on that option. “Having a background of playing the position, 260 pounds, just pound the rock,” Hicks said. “I do what I do best, just like fullback. I feel like it’s a man’s position. You’ve got to be a man.” At Pierce County (Ga.) High School, Hicks played fullback — among other things — in a Wing-T offense. Moving into the role of old-school fullback was something new and something rare.

Andy Janovich, Nebraska (6-1, 230): Janovich, a former walk-on, contributed throughout his career but touched the ball more than ever as a senior under new coach Mike Riley. He finished fourth on the team with 265 rushing yards (6.3 average) and three touchdowns — including a 55-yarder vs. Wisconsin — and added two catches for 58 yards. During his first three seasons, he had a grand total of three rushes for 6 yards and three receptions for 29 yards. Nebraska, which was “Fullback U” long ago, hadn’t given the ball to a fullback in more than two years. “Not at all, just because I didn’t really have any film to show people,” he said of his pro prospects entering this year. “If I was lucky, I was playing one to five snaps a game at fullback, and whatever special teams. I’m sure I wasn’t even on the radar. But after this coaching staff gave me a shot, it opened my eyes.” During his final two years at Gretna (Neb.) High School, Janovich went 99-0 with two state championships, wrestling at 189 pounds as a junior and 220 as a senior. He could put up big numbers in the bench press at the Scouting Combine.

Soma Vainuku, USC (5-11, 249): Vainuku carried twice for 4 yards and one touchdown but was the lead blocker for a pair of 900-yard rushers. For his career, he carried 24 times for 148 yards (6.2 average) and three touchdowns and caught 17 passes — but none during his final two seasons. Blocking will be his path to the NFL. So, too, will special teams. He made an immediate impact in that phase. As a redshirt freshman, he destroyed one blocker, made the tackle and forced a fumble on a kickoff. For his efforts, Vainuku’s facemask was bent into his mouth. "I was like 'Holy smokes!" special teams coach John Baxter said. "This guy is a one-man wrecking ball.'" He was the equivalent of King Kong in high school — though a gentler version. After not qualifying for admission into USC in 2010, Vainuku received his bachelor's degree in sociology and started working toward a second bachelor's degree. His father was a rugby star in Tonga. His cousin is former USC All-American and current Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga.

Dan Vitale, Northwestern (6-1, 240): Vitale lined up as the jack-of-all-trades superback for the Wildcats — essentially the equivalent of an H-back. As a senior, he led the team in receptions (33), receiving yards (355) and receiving touchdowns (four) to earn second-team all-Big Ten honors at tight end. He lined up at fullback at the Senior Bowl. The four-year superback starter caught 135 passes for 1,427 yards (10.6 average) and 11 touchdowns and carried six times for 29 yards. "He really, truly embodies what the term superback means," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He's great at the point-of-attack blocking. We can move him around, obviously, to get him in some areas where we hope we can get some favorable matchups. He runs terrific routes and has great hands. He's the full package. He's an all-Big Ten-level player and without a doubt a top-flight NFL prospect." He’s not related to Dick Vitale but there are plenty of recognizable names in his history. His brother, Tommy, is a linebacker for Northwestern, and he attended same high school as Red Grange, John Belushi and Edwin Hubble. The brothers grew out their hair this season in memory of an 11-year-old boy who did of brain cancer when he was 11.

ALSO IN THIS SERIES

Running backs, Part 1 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 2
Running backs, Part 3
Fullbacks (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 2 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 3 (FREE)



Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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