The old NFL was filled with teams that had that hard nosed and physical mentality. Whether it was on offense or defense, players did things on the field you could never dream of doing in today’s NFL. In the old NFL, there was one position that helped define a teams offense and their style of a physical, ground and pound rushing attack. The fullback.
Guys like Mike Alstott, Lorenzo Neal, Daryl Johnston, Larry Czonka, Bronko Nagurski and Vonta Leach helped define the fullback position during their respective eras. The greatest football player of all-time, Jim Brown, played fullback. By today's standards, he is considered a pure running back.
Sadly, the NFL is now a pure passing league and the fullback is almost entirely extinct with offenses moving away from such formations as the power I, and evolving more into shotgun based four-wide-receiver-sets. One of the teams that still holds one of the last of a dying breed is of course, the Baltimore Ravens with Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk, or "juice", was drafted to the Ravens in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft out of Harvard University to be the teams replacement for Vonta Leach. Leach was brought back for the 2013 season and was released shortly after to make room for Juszczyk to take over as the starting fullback and he has held onto it ever since.
In his three years as the starter, and the only fullback on the roster, Juszczyk has been a key figure in the Ravens offense over the last three years. Not only has he helped lead the way and open up lanes for running backs Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce, Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon, he has been a tremendous weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco. Juszczyk has caught 86 receptions for 691 yards and 3 touchdowns so far in his career and whenever Juszczyk hauls in a ball from Flacco, you can be sure to hear a loud "Juiiiiicccee!" from the hometown crowd in Baltimore.
After the 2016 season concludes, the Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome will have some tough decisions to make when it comes to his free agents. Many fans wonder if Newsome will retain guys like Brandon Williams, Rick Wagner and Kamar Aiken when free agency approaches. The one player who doesn't get brought up much is the aforementioned Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk is one of only seven fullbacks scheduled to hit the open market this offseason and there are ten teams that don't have a fullback listed on their roster. While Juszczyk won't command much on the open market, the question is this, should the Ravens finally start to evolve with the rest of the NFL and completely phase out the fullback position?
With the offenses struggles this season, the evidence is there now more than ever for the team to move along with the times even though Juszczyk has been a valuable asset to this team in the passing game. Some might call him a wasted roster spot in Baltimore. If there is one position that could help Juszczyk's case to be re-signed by the Ravens, it is at tight end. Ben Watson is going to be coming off an Achilles injury, Maxx Williams and Crockett Gilmore have been hampered by injuries, and Dennis Pitta is just coming off not one, but two dislocated hips that has cost him the best years of his career and we will never see the type of player Pitta could've become. Juszczyk does have good chemistry with Flacco, that's never a bad thing, and he did play some tight end at Harvard. There might be some room for Juszczyk on the Ravens roster in 2017 after all if they decide to bring him back and possibly move him to tight end.
One thing is for certain, no matter how this season ends, the Ravens front office, players and coaches will have the entire offseason to figure out just what the heck was wrong with this offense. Evaluations will have to be made by Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome on such offensive coaches like Marty Mornhinweg, Juan Castillo, and yes, even John Harbaugh. They will have to map out a plan to put a permanent system in place to help this offense succeed because there are some valuable pieces on offense for the Ravens, believe it or not. One of the questions during this process will be is if Kyle Juszczyk is in their plans for next season? Do they keep the fullback position and use it frequently in this offense? Or do they move on from the fullback position entirely in an effort to have an offense that fits this era of pro football?
We'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, would you like to see Kyle Juszczyk back with the Baltimore Ravens next season?