Balanced fullbacks are rare in the National Football League. Some mainly excel at blocking, while others can do a little of everything. The 2015 NFL Draft features two individuals that could be selected in the fourth or fifth round, Jalston Fowler and Tyler Varga.
Here is a list breaking down the top five fullbacks entering this year’s draft.
5. Mark Weisman, 6-0/240, Iowa
Summary: Mark Weisman led Iowa in rushing in three out of four seasons. He totaled 913 yards and eight touchdowns on 4.3 yards per carry in 2013. Weisman chimed in with 812 yards and 16 scores (season-high) on 3.8 yards per carry last season.
He helped Iowa reach 6 wins in 2014, good enough for a berth in the Taxslayer Bowl against Tennessee. Weisman ends his career at Iowa with 2,602 yards (sixth all-time), 32 touchdowns (third all-time) and 599 rushing attempts (fourth all-time).
Strengths: Weisman is built like a fullback at 6’0” and 240 pounds. He’s a balanced runner that consistently picks up positive yards. Weisman is capable of being a 1,000-yard rusher (975, in 2013 at Iowa). He excels at pass protection, and displays soft hands as a receiver.
Weaknesses: Weisman lacks elite quickness as a runner. He caught 24 passes in his career, yet Iowa didn’t have a consistent passing game.
Mark Weisman, NFL combine numbers: Didn’t work out at the combine
4. Hunter Joyer, 5-11/232, Florida
Summary: Hunter Joyer is a decent blocker, but 2011 was his lone season of production as a ball carrier. He accounted for 82 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Hunter caught one touchdown pass in his career (2013). He made three bowl appearances with Florida.
Strengths: Joyner leads running backs in the hole with solid blocks. His two career touchdowns have come in red-zone situations.
Weaknesses: Joyner isn’t a proven ball carrier. He lacks play making abilities as a pass catcher.
Hunter Joyer, NFL combine numbers: Didn’t work out at the combine
3. Connor Neighbors, 5-10/242, LSU
Summary: Connor Neighbors solidifies the term “traditional fullback.” Running and receiving aren’t his strong suits, but he is a potent blocker in the hole. He guided LSU’s backs to 224.5 yards per game and 25 touchdowns in 2014.
He led freshman running back Leonard Fournette to 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns on 5.5 yards per carry. Neighbors had 11 catches for 119 yards in his career at LSU. He made a bowl appearance in all five seasons (2010-14) with the Tigers.
Strengths: Neighbors has a solid frame at 5’10” and 242 pounds. He displays solid footwork as a blocker, and is afraid to take on linebackers and safeties at the next level.
Weaknesses: Neighbors lacks consistent hands a pass catcher. He didn’t total a rushing touchdown in his career at LSU.
Connor Neighbors, NFL combine numbers: Didn’t work out at the combine
2. Tyler Varga, 5-11/222, Yale
Summary: Tyler Varga brought a gridiron game to the Ivy League in his tenure at Yale (2012-14). He helped the Bulldogs reach 8 wins, totaling 1,423 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns (22 rushing) on 6.1 yards per carry. Varga averaged 142.3 yards per game in 2014.
He was productive as a receiver last season, catching 10 passes for 107 yards and four touchdowns. Varga ends his career as one of the best in Yale’s history. His 5.6 yards per carry average ranks him second among Yale’s top 10 career rushers. He’s third all-time in rushing touchdowns (31). Varga’s 2,985 rushing yards is good for fourth all-time.
Strengths: Varga has exceptional speed for a fullback. It’s not difficult for him to crack 100 yards rushing consistently (20 games of 100+ at Yale).
Weaknesses: Varga lacks the ideal size for a fullback at 5’11” and 222 pounds. He needs to bulk up more. Pass protection is good, but run blocking is an area of concern for him. Varga was Yale’s primary ball carrier, resulting in limited blocking on his end.
Tyler Varga, NFL combine numbers: Bench press (23 reps)
1. Jalston Fowler, 5-11/254, Alabama
Summary: Jalston Fowler is a versatile fullback. He’s an unselfish player that was one of the best all-around athletes at Alabama under head coach Nick Saban. Fowler started his career as a running back, before an ACL injury occurred in 2012. He rehabbed his way back and became a prolific run blocker in Tuscaloosa. Fowler guided Alabama’s backs to 206.6 yards per game and 35 touchdowns in 2014. The Crimson Tide averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
Fowler recorded at least five yards per carry in his tenure at Alabama. He totaled 385 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. Fowler leaves with 738 yards rushing and five touchdowns. He was important factor in two Southeastern Conference titles (2012, 2014) and two national championships (2011, 2012). Fowler appeared in five bowl games as a member of Alabama.
Strengths: Fowler has ideal size and quickness as a fullback. He excels at blocking inside and setting the edge for running backs. Fowler is a hard-nosed runner that falls forward for extra yards. He’s an exceptional pass catcher, accounting for 150 yards and seven touchdowns on 19 receptions.
Weaknesses: Injuries are Fowler’s lone concern. He has all the physical tools needed to be successful. Fowler needs to remain healthy.
Jalston Fowler, NFL combine numbers: 40-yard dash (4.94), bench press (23 reps), vertical jump (33.5 inches), broad jump (9’6”), 3-cone drill (7.56) and 20-yard shuttle (4.40)