Digging into how Mike McCoy utilizes the fullback position in his Offensive scheme.
The ever changing nature of the NFL has seen the usage of fullbacks for out or favor recently but then it appears to be making somewhat of a comeback in the past year or two. According to that second link, the reason for this is that offensive coordinators want to be able to “counterpunch“ a defense that goes light to defend against a pass-happy league. The data in that second link is garbage (no idea where he got his numbers), so I dug the data out of the snap count information at Pro-Football-Reference.com
|Team||Fullback||Percentage of offensive snaps|
|Baltimore Ravens||Kyle Juszczyk||40.8%|
|New England Patriots||James Develin||31.3%|
|Atlanta Falcons||Patrick DiMarco||31.2%|
|Buffalo Bills||Jerome Felton||30.3%|
|Carolina Panthers||Mike Tolbert||29.3%|
|Green Bay Packers||Aaron Ripkowski||26.5%|
|New Orleans Saints||John Kuhn||24.1%|
|Oakland Raiders||Jamize Olawale||23.5%|
|Denver Broncos||Andy Janovich||21.9%|
|Minnesota Vikings||Zach Line||20.0%|
|Tennessee Titans||Jalston Fowler||17.9%|
|Houston Texans||Jay Prosch||16.5%|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Anthony Sherman||16.5%|
|San Diego Chargers||Derek Watt||13.3%|
|Dallas Cowboys||Keith Smith||12.8%|
|Seattle Seahawks||Three players||10.1%|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Roosevelt Nix||9.2%|
|Detroit Lions||Michael Burton||9.2%|
|Cleveland Browns||Malcolm Johnson||8.3%|
|Chicago Bears||Paul Lasike||7.5%|
Note that this only looks at players listed as FB and FB only. It does not include H-Back/TE players who might be used primarily as blockers on many of their offensive snaps - such as Virgil Green (who was listed as FB/TE one year). Nor does it include players who are backup FB’s - such as Juwan Thompson. Thompson got 37 offensive snaps (3.4%). That means that the Broncos as a team used a FB 25.7% of the time in 2016 (including the 4 snaps that James Ferrentz took as a goalline FB). Also note that I have excluded Spencer Ware on this list because he spent most of his time as the team’s primary ball-carrier in 2016 and not, like the rest of the guys on the list, as the primary blocker out of the backfield. KC still listed him as a “FB” on their roster. Spencer Ware had 247 offensive touches in 2016; Kyle Juszczyk had 42. He was not playing the same position as the rest of the list.
We assume Andy is going to continue his prominent role on special teams in 2017. When asked what the role of the fullback will be in the 2017 Broncos offense, Andy Janovich said
“We watch a lot of film on the Chargers and all that. They used them quite a bit, so we'll see.”
So what is Andy Janovich’ role going to be in the 2017 Mike McCoy offense? To figure that out we need to look at how McCoy used his FB while as the HC in San Diego and also how he used (or didn’t) the FB as the OC in Denver from 2009 to 2012. So let’s do this historically. I did this by looking at the number of plays each year where the Broncos or the Chargers had a FB on the field. PFR was used to find who the FB’s were on the Chargers and then NFLGSIS was used to find out when they were on the field (they have a really neat tool that allows you to see how often a given 11-man lineup combination was used).
|Year||Team||Fullback||% Offensive snaps|
So we see that McCoy had two years in SD where he didn’t even have a fullback on the roster. In the two years that he did have a FB on the roster they were only in on roughly 1 out of every 8 offensive snaps. That’s not making heavy use of the FB at all. The average utilization of teams that used a FB in 2016 was on 20% of the offensive snaps. So that would suggest that Mike McCoy does not heavily employ his FB as a weapon in the offensive scheme. Let’s go more in depth into the various years ——
The 2009 Broncos had two players listed as FB’s, Spencer Larsen and Peyton Hillis. Neither was used that heavily in the offense, but here is the breakdown of how often and whether that play was a pass or a run.
Note that the percentages do not add up because the total number of rushing and Passing Plays for the team was different so they have a different denominator. Spencer Larsen was only in on 14 passing plays in 2009 (2.4%) but his 74 rushing play snaps was 16.8% of the team total (440 running plays). His 88 offensive plays in 1033 total offensive plays works out to 8.5%.
Hillis was in the dog house most of the year and played significantly less than he had in the previous season when he was the primary ball-carrier for a short period. They only significant chance he got to carry the ball was in the blow-out win over KC where he got some “garbage-time” carries. Hillis only touched the ball 17 times in 2009. Larsen had 31 touches. There were a seven instances where both players were on the field (on offense) at the same time.
Hillis was traded so the 2010 “McDaniel’s dumpster fire” only had one FB on the roster, Spencer Larsen. Larsen was used in about the same way that McJedi/McCoy had used the combination of the Hillis and Larsen the year before. Larsen was in on 16.2% of the offensive plays, but that was heavily weighted toward the running game. He was only in on 8.5% of the passing plays while he was on the field for 28.2% of the running plays.
Larsen was still our only FB on the roster. His utilization was very similar to the previous year despite the mostly different coaching staff. Larsen was in on 22.2% of the offensive plays - 12.7% of the passing plays and 30.3% of the running plays. So it would appear that Larsen was used a little more in the passing game this year than the previous year. Larsen was targetted 9 times in 2011 on the 60 passing plays where he was on the field. I don’t know how often he stayed in to block versus how often he ran a route. Larsen caught all 9 passes thrown his way. It’s interesting to note that Larsen was used much more heavily as a receiver with Kyle Orton at QB (7 catches) than with Tim Tebow (2 catches), but this should surprise none of us since we remember the max-protect (8 blockers and two receivers) plays for Tebow.
This team had three guys play fullback during different parts of the year:
Jacob Hester, NotRob Gronkowski and in goalline, Mitch Unrein. None of these guys featured prominently in the offense. These three guys combined to touch the ball 20 times with Hester accounting for 18 of those (17 carries and one catch). Peyton Manning never used fullbacks in his offense so the 2012 numbers should not be surprising. We should also note that in the three games where Hester was on the team in 2012, he was used as the single back and not as a blocking back for the running game. On 34 of his 46 offensive plays he was the lone back. I’m fairly certain that the offense Mike McCoy will be running in 2017 will not resemble the Manning-led offense of 2012 so we don’t really need to focus on this data.
The Chargers only had a FB in 2013 and Le’Ron McClain only touched the ball 13 times on his 133 offensive snaps. So we can surmise that he was almost exclusively used a blocker in the 2013 Charger’s offense. We should also note that 7 of his 11 carries came on 3rd and 1 (and that he converted all 7 for first downs).
So this brings us to the 2016 Chargers who had a FB once again after drafting one of J.J.’s little brothers with a 6th round pick in the 2016 draft. Derek Watt was only in on 13.3% of the offensive plays for the Chargers in 2016: 23.3% of the running plays but only 6.3% of the passing plays. Of those 39 passing plays where Watt was on the field in 2016, he was targetted four times and caught all four of them. Two of his catches (and his only big catch - 53 yards) came against Denver. Derek Watt only carried the ball twice. Both times was on 3rd and 1 carries and both times he gained 2 yards and converted the first down.
So if we got only by how the Chargers used the fullback in 2016 we would expect Andy Janovich’ role to actually decrease in terms of how much he will be used on offense. Well, how much was Janovich used on offense in 2016? Let’s look at how the fullback was used in general by the 2016 Broncos offense.
|Total Offensive Plays||Passing Plays||Running Plays|
Janovich and Thompson combined to appear on 175 of our 410 running plays (42.7%) which is surprisingly low in my opinion considering the bread-and-butter of the Shanny/Kubiak offense was supposed to be ZBS FB-led runs. Janovich and Thompson combined to carry the ball 12 times, so it was rare for them to run the ball. All four of Jano’s carries was either short-yardage or goalline. This is in contrast with Juwan who only had two of his eight carries in short-yardage or goalline situations. The two players combined to get targetted 8 times in their 85 passing play snaps, so they were spending most of their time on passing plays as blockers.