The Buffalo Bills began Training Camp Sunday evening with more competition for significant playing time in quite some time. Over the next several days, I’ll be taking a look at the key position battles, questions about the roster and key storylines to keep an eye on throughout camp.
Will The Bills Keep A True Fullback?
Last year, the Buffalo Bills played 249 offensive snaps with a fullback, with Frank Summers seeing the lion share of snaps with 232. Summers’ 232 snaps ranked 17th among fullbacks, which was surprising, considering that the team led the league in rushing attempts.
The Bills want to be a run-oriented team, which is why many analysts have used a sharpie when writing Summers’ name on 53-man roster predictions. However, it seems that most of us have been neglecting the fact that Anthony Dixon, a free agent addition that played sparingly at fullback with the 49ers, is nearly guaranteed a roster position.
We’ve all heard that the NFL is growing into a “passing league,” and while it’s true that offenses are evolving more and more, teams are still relying on running the ball in order to sustain success. Now, instead of primarily running out of multi-back sets, coaches like Bill Belichick have seen the value in spreading the defense out in order to pound the ball up the middle.
It’s a concept that the Bills have, and will obviously incorporate into their offense, as they use 13 personnel as their base offensive package, lining up with one back, one tight end, and three wide receivers.
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In order for a true fullback to earn a spot on a 53-man roster, they have to be an incredible value to the run game (think John Kuhn), or a versatile weapon out of the backfield (think Marcel Reese), assets that neither Frank Summers, nor Evan Rodriguez haven proven to be.
Summers, the “blocking specialist” graded out as the 2nd worst run blocker among 25 qualifying fullbacks, according to ProFootballFocus, but the Bills were able to get him 19 touches (12 carries, 7 catches). Rodriguez saw limited playing time on offense, primarily playing on special teams, but he’s a better fit for the new hybrid “H-Backs” that are trickling into NFL rosters.
With the Bills having traded for Bryce Brown and guaranteeing $750k to Dixon over the next three seasons, it’s hard to find a spot for a true fullback. Dixon, who stands 6’1” and weighs 233 pounds is most definitely a running back, but he’s got the bulk, power and skill to be an effective blocker in a limited role that was used on just 19% of run plays last season.
A fullback is typically a core special teams contributor, but Dixon also has experience chasing down kicks and punts with the 49ers.
Frank Summers and Evan Rodriguez are both intriguing players that could provide some value to the roster, but it’ll be an uphill climb to secure a spot on the depth chart.