There aren’t too many NFL franchises that still prioritize a fullback in their offense. The league is changing, and the old-school position is getting left behind.
New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur learned the game from a different generation, however, one that knew the value of a gritty lead-blocker.
I’m talking about the Mike Shanahan school of thought, passed on to his son Kyle Shanahan, the LaFleur brothers, Robert Saleh, Sean McVay, Arthur Smith and a handful of other coaches in the league today. A mindset that’s still as successful as the day Mike Shanahan held a clipboard.
“Yeah I mean, you like to have a fullback,” LaFleur told the Jets beat reporters on June 16, 2021. “You like to be in those traditional 21-personnel formations just to keep the defense balanced a little bit more, [so] you can go either way. So you can kind of control the angles, particularly in the run game and then obviously all the play-pass that comes off of it.”
If you look at LaFleur’s past with Kyle Shanahan, the pair was rarely caught without a fullback. In Atlanta with the Falcons, they utilized Patrick DiMarco at the position from 2015-16, which immediately led to the fullback’s only career Pro Bowl selection during their first year together.
The more famous player that embraced this role was Kyle Juszczyk, or “Juice.” The five-time Pro Bowler joined Shanahan in San Francisco in 2017, when Kyle was hired to be the 49ers head coach.
Juszczyk originally signed on a four-year, $21 million contract in 2017 after his first Pro Bowl nod the season before with the Baltimore Ravens. Only $7 million was guaranteed, but Juice ended up earning $20.85 million out of the possible $21 million total with four straight Pro Bowl honors to go along with his success (five going back to the Ravens).
The fullback was so important to Shanahan’s system that the Niners’ HC awarded him with a five-year $27 million deal in 2021 ($9.6 million guaranteed).
LaFleur is a student of this scheme. Although he has said in the past that he’s going to fit this offense to the players and not the other way around, it would make sense for LaFleur to at least give Trevon Wesco an opportunity at the hybrid fullback/playmaker position that Juszczyk is known for.
Wesco the Mountaineer
The 6-foot-3, 265-pound blocking tight end was a surprising fourth-round pick from ex-Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan in 2019.
The selection came on the heels of an impressive senior campaign at West Virginia. Wesco was able to accumulate 366 receiving yards off 26 catches (14.1 average per reception).
Here is one of his more spectacular grabs from his days as a Mountaineer.
Heading into the draft, the tight end’s greatest strengths were his physical demeanor, ball skills off delayed routes, and his prowess as an impact lead-blocker in gaps and space.
Joe Marino of The Draft Network wrote: “[Wesco’s] a bear that executes [blocks] with a finisher’s mentality.”
Colleague Kyle Crabbs echoed Marino, calling Wesco a “blue-collar player” that’s often “tasked with doing a lot of dirty work without reward.”
Can Wesco Make the Transition to Fullback?
The Jets’ tight end will never have the speed and yards-after-catch ability of a Juszczyk-type, but as LaFleur said in the press conference, “he’s a bigger body” and “he’s longer” which will allow the coordinator to play him more “in-line.”
The Jets OC did eventually confirm suspicions that Wesco is indeed the fullback “right now,” adding that he’s “embracing” the role.
Michael Nania of Jets X-Factor calculated that Wesco has played 97 snaps at fullback in his two years in the NFL, which comes out to 3.5 snaps at the position per game. He lined up as the Jets fullback in the I-formation hand-off below, mauling linebacker Darius Leonard as the lead-blocker.
As a playmaker, he’s only tallied 52 receiving yards, but it came on just three catches including a 32-yard long.
To be fair, Wesco never got many opportunities in Adam Gase’s system. When he did, he made the most of them converting three of five targets (plus two rushing attempts) for three first downs (one rushing).
It not only appears that the former Mountaineer is comfortable playing fullback, but the position seems to better fit his skill set. It also provides Wesco with a greater chance of making the roster.
The Jets brought in veteran tight end Tyler Kroft in free agency, an exceptional blocker, as well as receiving threat UDFA Kenny Yeboah. Chris Herndon and Ryan Griffin also come before Wesco on the depth chart, so his added fullback traits make him much more indispensable come cut-week.