Positional Analysis: Fullbacks

The fullback position isn't often a lusty one in the NFL Draft, and this year's crop is full of 'tweeners and those with baggage. While it isn't considered a strong group, the Vikings may still have an interest in developing someone that already fits their mold.

VIKINGS FULLBACK — Charles Stackhouse

VIKINGS' NEED — The Vikings technically didn't have an experienced fullback on the roster during the 2003 training camp, although Jim Kleinsasser plays the role of fullback in short-yardage situations. The need for a specialist at the position prompted the signing of Stackhouse before the home opener, and he essentially did what was asked of him. If the Vikings get to a point in training camp where there could be a tough roster spot decision, fullback could sacrificed again. However, if there is a player the Vikings like, they may take a shot at a fullback in the late rounds — where most of them will still be available.


THE CLASS OF 2004 — A pretty bleak lot at best. While fullback is rarely a position that is coveted on draft day, this year's class is weaker than most. It is unlikely that any fullback will be drafted earlier than Day 2. The likelihood of the best fullbacks being available in the fifth round could play into the Vikings making a move on the second day of the draft, but, like many other teams, the Vikings may just wait to take an undrafted free agent after the draft.


THE CREAM OF THE CROP

Troy Fleming, Tennessee, 6-0, 229 —
Fifth-year senior…No. 2 all-time high school rushing yardage leader with 9,487 yards…Forced to move to fullback as a freshman because Vols had Jamal Lewis and Travis Henry already in the fold…Two-year starter who had 51 carries for 205 yards and one TD and caught 57 passes for 382 yards and three TDs…In the Gridiron Classic all-star game, he got to play featured back and rushed 19 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns — winning game MVP honors…Runs with authority and has decent speed…Good receiver with soft hands…Biggest problem is that he is viewed by some as a fullback and others as a running back…Never developed into a bullish blocker…Was very impressive at the Combine, making some think he could be a pro running back — doing 24 reps with 225 pounds, running a 4.47 40, posting a vertical jump of 34 inches and a broad jump of 10-6 — the best of any running back tested.

PROJECTION: The 'tweener tag could hurt, but the combination of his Combine numbers, his outing at the Gridiron Classic and the history of Tennessee RBs in the NFL could be enough to have somebody call his name on the first day of the draft.


THE NEXT LEVEL

Lousaka Polite, Pittsburgh, 6-0, 246 —
Fifth-year senior and four-year starter…Wasn't used much in the offense until last year, when he rushed 70 times for 258 yards and a touchdown and caught 25 passes for 222 yards and another TD…Very strong lower body…Isn't the ideal size for a fullback, but has a lot of power that makes up for it as a blocker…Used as a short-yardage runner…Isn't a fluid receiver who can string more than one move together…Doesn't have the look of a natural athlete…Wowed scouts at the Combine with the most reps (28), best broad jump (9-9), highest Wonderlic score (26) and second best 40 time (4.62) of the fullbacks that worked out.

PROJECTION: His Combine numbers helped his cause, but his lack of pure athleticism will drop him on some boards — probably into the fourth or fifth round.

Mike Karney, Arizona State, 5-11, 254 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who had just 18 carries and caught 33 passes for one touchdown…A pure fullback who is built like a cinder block…Very strong in both upper and lower body…Holds blocks well and has good explosion on the snap…Has the strength to be a short-yardage and goal line runner…Has extremely limited experience as a runner and receiver, since most of his receptions are dump offs when the primary target is covered…Did 25 reps at the Combine — the second-most of any fullback tested — but his 5.01 40 time was the worst among those who ran.

PROJECTION: A pure fullback, he will have to go to a team with a young go-to runner that is simply looking for a blocker. If he's going to make it in the NFL, he's going to have to work on catching the ball, because one-dimensional fullbacks don't hang around long. That said, his blocking is devastating and reminds some of a smaller Jim Kleinsasser.

Thomas Tapeh, Minnesota, 6-1, 245 — Fifth-year senior…Full-time starter the last two years after missing time his first two season with injuries to both feet…In his final two seasons, he was a workhorse despite a three-man backfield, rushing 300 times for 1,476 yards and 19 touchdowns…A weight room war horse, he has a bench press of 430 pounds and squats more than 600 pounds…Probably the most versatile of the fullbacks in this year's class, he has experience as a go-to runner in games and as a receiver when called upon…Wasn't used as a pure blocking fullback, which could project badly to the NFL…Some have questioned his durability…Did 23 reps at the Combine, ran 4.75 40 and had a 32-1/2 inch vertical jump…For teams that give credence to the Wonderlic score, he suffered by scoring just 11 — the lowest score among fullbacks and one of the worst of any player who tested.

PROJECTION: In the right situation, he could be a Mike Alstott type that could shoulder some of the rushing workload. But his lack of experience as a pure fullback will likely hurt his overall draft grade in many war rooms.


OTHER DAY TWO PROSPECTS

Travis Wilson, Kansas State, 6-4, 256 —
Fifth-year senior…Transferred to K-State after his freshman year at Michigan State and sat out 2001 season…In two years, he ran just 30 times — scoring one TD — and caught just seven passes and another TD…Excellent lead blocker…Veteran special teamer…One of the biggest fullbacks in the draft…Very hard-nosed…Adept at hitting defenders on the move…Is a liability in the passing game because he doesn't run routes well…Has some off-field baggage, including an arrest for assaulting a police officer and intimidating a witness to the incident…Had a very good Combine workout, doing 25 reps, running a 4.84 and having the best vertical jump (33 inches) and Wonderlic score (26) of any fullbacks tested…Off-field incident may be a concern, but he will be drafted to be the lead blocker for a West Coast Offense, but must work hard on being a factor in receiving game.

Mark Pierce, Arkansas, 5-11, 241 — Third-year junior…Part-time starter who was used down by the goal line — scoring 13 touchdowns on 98 career carries…One of the best blocking fullbacks in the country each of the last two years…Remorseless in attacking defenders…Good speed for a fullback…A durable player who plays through injuries…Has a scary rap sheet that includes battery and disorderly conduct…Comes off to some scouts as arrogant…Some aren't convinced he has the strength to be consistent goal line runner in the NFL… Probably the best pure athlete among the fullback class, but off-field problems will drop him below some with lesser potential.

Alex Wade, Duke, 6-0, 251 — Fifth-year senior who tore his right ACL as a high school senior…Had a monster junior year, rushing 201 times for 979 yards and four TDs with six 100-yard games…Production dropped big time as a senior as hamstring injuries limited him to 58 carries for 252 yards…Plays faster than his slow 4.83 40 time would indicate…A very good receiver, he caught 39 passes in three years and was hard to bring down in the open field…Isn't a weight room freak and lacks some functional strength…His injury history will scare away some teams, but not most…Doesn't have a mean streak when blocking…Could be a project at RB for some team, which could be better because some scouts think he doesn't consider himself a fullback — regardless of what the coaches say.

Luke Lawton, McNeese State, 6-0, 237 — Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who had 212 carries for 1,017 yards and 18 touchdowns while catching 54 passes and scoring seven more touchdowns…Has decent size and room to get bigger…Takes good angles and make good blocks…Speed is very good for a fullback…Doesn't have the power to stand up or knock back big defenders…Needs a lot more work at the next level to catch up to some of the other prospects in terms of blocking….Ran the fast 40 (4.55 seconds) and had the best vertical jump (33 inches) of any fullback tested at the Combine…Isn't a blood-and-guts fullback, but could find a spot with a West Coast Offense because of his speed and receiving ability, but teams looking for a blocking fullback will probably pass.

Doug Easlick, Virginia Tech, 5-10, 241 — Fifth-year senior…Spent his freshman year on the VT wrestling team…Two-year starter who rushed 24 times for 115 yards and caught 32 passes for 250 yards and one TD…Good combination of strength and speed…Very strong, he set a school record for fullbacks with a 640-pound squat…Good quickness and movement as a blocker…Durability isn't a question…Is seen as too undersized and has the potential of being engulfed by big NFL defenders…Too north-and-south as a runner and a blocker in the open field…If he were three inches taller and 10 pounds heavier, with his work ethic he would be a third- or fourth-rounder; instead he'll have to wait until the final couple of rounds — if he's even drafted then.

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