But, before they go the way of the dinosaur, the fullback position has thrived in some of the bigger conferences, especially in the Southeastern Conference, where several "old-school" coaches still prefer to have that offensive lineman in a running backs body protecting the pocket or clearing out the rush lanes for their ball carriers.
Jay Prosch is widely regarded as the one player that truly deserved to be in attendance at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, but those decision makers mysteriously decided that the best fullback in college football was better served staying home in Mobile, Alabama. At least Phil Savage, the director of the Senior Bowl, deemed the local product worthy of suiting up for his 2014 South roster.
The 2013 season was like tonic for Prosch, as he had experienced possibly the worst year of his life when his mother became ill and later passed away in 2012. He reminds scouts of the stereotype of a football player from the 1940s because that's exactly what he is. With his helmet off, the thing that stands out about him is his head. It's sort of puffy and has these thick ridges in it, topped off with a buzz-cut. Somehow, you get the feeling he doesn't really need a helmet because his head, well, is one.
The former University of Illinois product, who transferred back home when his mother became ill, Prosch knows that his "bread and butter" comes from making sure tailbacks like Tre Mason gobble up the big yardage with the fullback leading the charge. Ask any coach on the Tigers staff for the reason they were able to erase a 3-9 2012 season and emerge as a viable contender for the national championship, and they will all sound off as if in a chorus – having Jay Prosch insure the success of moving the chains. "I'm a hard-nosed type of guy," he said. "I love playing rough-and-tough football."
In 2013, Prosch started on three special teams units, in addition to serving as the lead blocker for a rushing attack that led the nation, averaging 328.3 yards per game. On 20 of Mason's 23 touchdown runs, it was the senior fullback leading the charge. He also scored once while pulling in five passes for 95 yards. Selected All-American for the second time during his career, he would conclude his college career playing in front of family and friends back in Mobile at the Senior Bowl.
While 335 other players attended the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, Prosch would have to wait until Auburn's Pro Day on March 4 to prove those Combine decision-makers wrong.
The Tiger was timed at 4.72 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which would have topped any of the six fullbacks at the Combine. His bench press figure of 27 times at 225 pounds would have ranked second among all 35 running backs (fullbacks and tailbacks) that were in Indianapolis.
No fullback matched Prosch's 32-inch vertical jump, as his 10'01" broad jump also topped any mark that the fullbacks could record. His 4.40-second time in the 20-yard shuttle would have placed him second among the Combine fullbacks and he registered 7.33 seconds in the three-cone drill, also second-best among players at his position.
Auburn University Tigers
Prosch has a powerfully built frame with good thickness throughout his torso, along with broad shoulders, good upper and lower body muscle tone. He maintains very good balance and plays at a low pad level. He lacks long arms (30 1/8-inches), but compensates with big, strong hands (10-inches), as he is very capable of striking with a forceful punch. He has a wide bubble, thick thighs and calves, looking the part of a classic blocking-type, cannonball-like fullback. His frame has room to carry at least another 15 pounds of bulk with no loss in quickness.
Prosch is more of a straight-line runner, but does so at a low pad level, showing the hand punch and placement to jerk down linebackers blocking in the second level. He showed in 2012 that he has a good grasp for taking angles, and he produced 32 second-level blocks as a senior. He runs with good balance and body control, and has pretty decent timed speed for his position (just not enough to be a viable running option). He is stout at the point of attack and plays with good aggression, as he will not hesitate to face up. He shows functional hip snap when changing direction and on the rare occasions he got to tote the football, he demonstrated enough leg drive to fight through arm tackles, as he has never lost yardage after being tackled, whether as a ball carrier or pass catcher. As a receiver, he does a good job of adjusting to the ball in flight (see 2013 Texas A&M and Arkansas games). as a lead blocker, he shows enough initial quickness to attack the rush lanes, along with the power to widen and sustain the holes while leading through the gaps, staying light on his feet to avoid tripping up from low tackles.
Prosch does a good job of locating and picking up stunts and blitzes when blocking in the backfield. He knows how to drop his weight and square his shoulders to widen the rush lanes and makes good adjustments on the field to coverages. Things come natural for him, as he quickly adjusted to being the lead blocker, once given the opportunity to garner a considerable amount of offensive snaps as a senior. He also developed a good feel for locating the backside and edge defenders when staying behind the line to protect the pocket. As a receiver, he will either run over smaller defenders past the second level or use his redirection skills to avoid contact on the move when he is challenged by the bigger defensive linemen. He is a demon on special teams, showing a good feel for the return game and has that linebacker's wrap-up mentality when delivering the tackle (made 199 tackles playing linebacker as a senior in high school and, as a sophomore at Illinois in 2011, he led Big Ten Conference special team players with 11 tackles).
Prosch is a tough, physical player who might have a few rough edges as a ball carrier, but plays with good intensity as a blocker, doing whatever the coaches ask, to garner more playing time (slot receiver, special teams coverage, etc). He is an aggressive blocker who will not hesitate to battle on contact. He has worked hard the last two years to improve his overall strength and add bulk to his once-slight frame (for a fullback), and he's the type of player that will go until the whistle in attempts to finish. He demonstrates exceptional nastiness trying to widen the rush lanes and can maul with good intent blocking in-line. When he stays low in his pads with shoulders squared, he could be a load to bring down in one-on-one situations as a short-yardage runner.
Prosch is never going to win foot races turning the corner, but he showed surprisingly good bounce-back agility in his running stride, along with a powerful lower frame to break tackles, especially when in motion as a receiver. He stays low in his pads and keeps his legs churning on contact, but looks like he is strictly a between-the-tackles type as a ball carrier (only 14 attempts in 51 games). He is adequate getting a quick start out of his stance, but does a nice job of making adjustments on the move, especially when stalking and neutralizing second level defenders as a lead blocker (see 2013 Texas A&M, Arkansas State and Western Carolina games). He is not sudden in his initial step, but can build his acceleration once he gets off the blocks. As a fullback, you do see that he has the ability to get up on linebackers with good intensity. As a short-yardage runner, I feel that he has enough ability to hit the holes with urgency.
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Prosch shows just adequate acceleration and burst to make the initial tackler miss, but once he lead-blocks into the second level, he has good acceleration and power to consistently drive through defenders (see 2013 Arkansas State, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Missouri games). He uses more of a roll-over step to get to his point of mesh. He won't explode into the holes, but has deceptive acceleration that he uses more as a blocker to dominate than as a ball carrier. On the times he does make it to the second level, you just don't see the second gear to pull away, but he will lower his pads and keep his legs churning to drive through the initial tackle.
Prosch runs at a good pad level. He does a nice job of squaring up to drive through arm tackles and has the vision to locate the cutback lanes and the change of direction agility to get there. He plays with a very good power base as a blocker and will generally stay on his feet attacking holes and moving forward. He plays with natural knee bend and controls his body well when attempting to sink and uncoil as a blocker. The thing you see on film is that he plays with good hip swerve, as his low center of gravity allows him to maintain balance working through trash.
Prosch was a pleasant surprise as a receiver when finally given the opportunity to tote the ball underneath and in the short areas the last two years (see 2013 Arkansas State and Texas A&M games). As a ball carrier, he runs with a hard drive and good forward body lean to break the initial tackle, but lacks that suddenness and second gear to defenders, not showing enough explosiveness through the holes to be a valid threat as a running back, except when utilized as a short-yardage runner, thanks to his above average strength. He does a nice job of leaning forward and keeping his legs churning to pick up additional yards after initial contact though. He is very conscious of ball security, using both hands to protect the sphere and has never been tackled for negative yardage.
Because Prosch has had only fourteen carries in 51 games, none generating more than nine yards on any attempt, he is not rated in this category.
Prosch has never been tackled for a loss on 25 touches (14 carries, 11 catches). He shows good strength on contact and will gain tough yards, thanks to his ability to keep his legs churning. He plays with good forward body lean and has equally impressive leg drive and upper body strength. When he secures the ball as a receiver, he looks for defenders to run over rather than try to get "fancy" with juking moves. You can see on film his ability to uncoil and explode into the opponent on initial contact, and he has a compact running style to finish the play once he gets into the second level.
Tendency to Fumble
Prosch shows very good ball security skills, having never put the ball on the ground. He won't hold the ball like a loaf of bread and keeps it tucked inside both hands to his chest when attacking the second level defenders after the catch, or on those rare opportunities to hit the inside holes as a ball carrier. This is one area teams will not have to worry about as there is nothing on film to indicate that he won't play with the same performance level in the pros.
Prosch was part of a KISS (keep it simple and stupid) approach as a receiver, as he was used on dump-offs and controlled routes, but never asked to stretch the field. He has good body control and arm extension to get to off-target throws, but lacks separation quickness after the catch (had just one of his 28 receptions gain at least 20 yards), but he is a pretty decent chain mover who is alert to the sticks and boundaries (see 2013 Arkansas State and Texas A&M games). He has good balance, never needing to throttle down in order to catch the ball. He has the hip snap to adjust and redirect to off-target throws and shows good vision to track the ball in flight, but again, you just don't see him used on anything more than simple patterns.
Prosch is used on just simple route assignments. He shows good athleticism to reach out and snare the ball away from the frame, but outside of dump-offs and wheel routes, there is nothing special here as the Tigers system is more geared towards their running game than stretching the field.
This is Prosch's best offensive skill. He generates excellent power on initial contact and creates a tremendous push off the snap when operating as a lead blocker. He has the strength to gain leverage at the point of attack and does a great job of using his hands to shock and jolt defenders with his punch, along with his ability to reach defenders off his frame in attempts to lock on and seal. He delivers above-average pop on contact and is always looking for an opponent to block, especially when stalking in the second level or operating in space. He has outstanding awareness to stunts, twists and the blitz, along with the feet to mirror his man when neutralizing edge rushers or stalling backside activity (see 2013 Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Missouri games). He might lack great arm length, but shows more than enough strength to widen the holes and sustain his blocks. He is built for leverage and balance and seldom, if ever, is knocked back when facing up to an opponent.
Special Teams Coverage Skills
Prosch could eventually rank with the elite in the NFL game when it comes to handling special teams coverage responsibilities. He is generally the first player downfield on kickoff returns and uses his strength very well to break up the wedge. He is also alert to "trick plays," having successfully fielded several short kicks in his career. He led Big Ten players with eleven tackles during his sophomore season at Illinois in 2011 and you can see his pedigree in being a disruptive force as a hitting machine. He is also very good at using his speed to get downfield to cover on directional punts. On special teams play alone, he is worthy of strong consideration on draft day.
Jameel Cook-ex Tampa Bay: Like Cook, Prosch has had to remake himself from a standout prep linebacker into a role player as a blocking fullback. The added bulk earned him lots of playing time as a lead blocker in 2012 and 2013. His 30 touchdown-resulting blocks as a senior were more than the combined rushing touchdowns of 100 teams at the major college level (123 total). He proved to be a capable receiver, but based on his stellar play on special teams as a sophomore at Illinois, along with his wedge-busting ability for the coverage units, this is a player that could bring great value in the later stages of the draft.