In the fourth round of the 2012 Draft, Phil Emery selected tight end Evan Rodriguez out of Temple, and some believed Rodriguez had the ability to become a weapon in his first season. He spent the majority of Training Camp as a tight end until the Bears traded fullback Tyler Clutts to the Houston Texans in exchange for defensive back Sherrick McManis. He was then moved to fullback.
Rodriguez performed well at times, especially for someone who had never played the position prior to the 2012 season, but given his skill set, his potential to be a downfield target in the passing game and the team's switch to a West Coast style of offense, he may be better suited moving back to tight end in 2013.
New offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer talked about his preference of having a traditional fullback to go along with his tight ends, telling the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs, "If you have both then you really have what you are looking for; if you have a fullback and an F tight end that can move around and a fullback at times and be a tight end, not a point of attack tight end.”
Judging from Kromer's comments, he wants a fullback who has versatility and the ability to move around but wants someone who is more of lead blocker and would rely more on the "F" tight end as a pass-catching/deep threat. Given the poor performances at the tight end position last season, the team is obviously going to be looking for an upgrade in the Draft and/or Free Agency, and it appears that they will likely be moving Rodriguez back to tight end in 2013.
If Rodriguez is moved back to tight end, who takes over the role of fullback?
Harvey Unga spent some time working with the fullbacks in Training Camp this past summer, but his abilities as a blocker are a big question. With likely no one on the current roster with the ability to play the position, the team could look to Free Agency to add to the position.
The top name to likely hit the market is the Jacksonville Jaguars' Greg Jones. Jones, when healthy, has been one of the best lead blockers in the game but has struggled with injuries throughout his career and will be turning 32 before the start of the season.
A younger and likely cheaper option than Jones could be Jerome Felton. Felton played previously with the Detroit Lions before having a solid season in 2012 with the Minnesota Vikings that led to his first career Pro Bowl appearance. The Vikings may be inclined to let him walk considering the strong play of rookie tight end/fullback Rhett Ellison.
The Draft could be an interesting place to find a young player to develop, but considering that so few college teams use traditional fullbacks, it is becoming harder and harder to find NFL-caliber talent at the position.
Florida State's Lonnie Pryor is viewed by many as the best fullback in the Draft. He has a thick lower body, is quick and athletic and has the ability to drive through defenders to open up running lanes. His weakness is that his upper body is viewed too narrow by NFL standards, and he is viewed by some as more of a hybrid of a running back and fullback.
Pryor is similar to former Seminole Greg Jones in the fact that he also possesses the ability to run the football in short yardage situations. Given that Pryor projects to be a mid-to-late-round pick, the Bears likely will have more pressing needs to address in the Draft.
NFL teams in the past have converted undersized college defenders into fullbacks, including guys like Korey Hall, Darrel Young and Bruce Miller and have found success doing it.
If the Bears want to run a traditional West Coast offense in 2013 and beyond, finding a traditional lead-blocking fullback this offseason may just be a bigger concern than you think.
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