With the breaking news that Dan Snyder has reached an agreement to sell the Commanders, what better way to usher in a new era of Washington football than to revive a piece of the team’s glorious past. Two pieces, actually. In the fourth and final instalment of my 2023 player roundups series (Nickelbacks & Safeties, Coverage Linebackers & Hybrid Defenders, Returners+), I will have a look at fullbacks and H-backs that Eric Bieniemy might consider drafting to beef up his offensive attack.
I originally set out to do a rundown of the fullbacks available in the draft, inspired by the fact that incoming offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy used the mightiest of the backs in his offense for the past five years. Will he bring the fullback back to DC? I don’t know, but I figured it was worth investigating the players he might choose if that’s what he’s thinking.
When I dug into the 2023 fullback draft class, however, I discovered one bona fide superstar and maybe two other players I’d consider worthy of a draft pick. There were many more fullbacks who have declared for the draft, but most of them offer little more than blocking, like Iowa’s Monte Pottebaum. While that might align with most fans’ idea of the fullback position, it’s not where I see the position heading.
Historically, the fullback was once the premier ball-carrier in the league. In the early Super Bowl era, the fullback took a backseat to the halfback and developed a reputation as a hard hitting, if lumbering blocker. In the 1990’s, fullbacks began to be used more as receivers. Following their near extinction in the early to mid-2010’s, the fullback has come back and is experiencing a rebirth as a complementary weapon in the passing game, offering value as an extra blocker as well as providing a mismatch receiving threat out of the backfield. The ideal modern fullback is a big back with exceptional athleticism for his size and good ball skills as a receiver.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of players like that around, which might help to explain the lack of widespread adoption around the league. As I was digging through position rankings and draft profiles to find these elusive beasts, I came across a number of other players with similar and overlapping skillsets. Some could play the closely aligned H-back role, and a few have some extra tricks up their sleeves.
This brings us back to the Redskins’ heritage, since the H-back was originally invented by Joe Gibbs, who aligned move tight end Clint Didier back from the line of scrimmage as a means to get another blocker in position to slow down Giants’ pass rusher, Lawrence Taylor. The position was designated “H” on the play chart because “F” was already taken by fullback John Riggins. With second-year QB Sam Howell facing Micah Parsons and Kayvon Thibodeaux at least twice a year, will Eric Bieniemy see the value in reviving this piece of the Redskins’ legacy? If he does, there are some great options in this draft class.
What all of these players all have in common is that they would make interesting additions to bring a little more thunder to Bieniemy’s offense and balance out all the little speedy guys, while also helping to protect our second-year quarterback and get the running backs some more yards before contact. An added bonus is that these guys should all be available on Day 3 of the draft, and some might even be available as UDFAs afterwards.
Early Day 3
Josh Whyle, TE, Cincinnati
6-6.5, 248 lbs, 4.69 sec 40, RAS 8.98
NFL Comp: Cade Otton
BrisVegas Draft Projection: Rounds 4 to 5
Receiving: 32 rec, 326 yds, 3 TDs
Whyle projects as an F tight end in the NFL and would be good value on Day 3 if the Commanders don’t pick one earlier. He is an athletic player with good route running skills, jump-ball ability to mismatch defensive backs, and presents a receiving threat at all three levels. He also showed good development as a blocker throughout his time in college.
The reason he makes this list is that Cincinnati also aligned him at fullback occasionally, where he demonstrated good ability as a lead blocker, while also presenting a threat to release from the backfield as a receiver, as illustrated in the film clip. He was not used at all as a rusher from the fullback alignment, but there is no reason to think he couldn’t add value as a ball carrier as well.
He would join the Commanders as a receiving tight end, with starting potential, and compete with Amari Rogers and Cole Turner as a rookie. He provides additional flexibility to add H-back and fullback assignments to his repertoire.
The #Bearcats went I-formation twice on 4th down, with TE Josh Whyle lined up as the fullback. The first time, Whyle, Joe Huber, Dylan O'Quinn and others sprung RB Corey Kiner for a 19-yd TD. The second time, Whyle slipped out on play-action for a 2-yd TD reception. Great design. pic.twitter.com/duSedbKKdJ— Justin Williams (@Williams_Justin) October 4, 2022
Brenton Strange, TE/H-back, Penn State
6-4, 253 lbs, 4.7 sec 40, RAS 9.09
NFL Comp: Tommy Tremble
BrisVegas Draft Projection: Rounds 4 to 5
Receiving: 32 rec, 362 yds, 5 TD
Brenton Strange has flown under the radar in a deep TE class and has potential to be a Day 3 steal. He has a great combination of toughness and athleticism which ideally suits the H-back role, where he excelled in college. He is a tenacious, powerful blocker in the run game, who moves blockers out of the way and often leaves them on the ground. He is effective at run blocking from an in-line alignment or lined up in the backfield as a lead-blocking fullback. He had modest ball production in college, but has the physical tools to develop as a receiving threat. He has great run after the catch ability and is difficult for defenders to bring down. He was not used as a short-yardage ball carrier, but has all the tools to excel in that role.
Brenton Strange crack block on Harrison pic.twitter.com/cEcQjY2ALF— Billy M (@BillyM_91) April 5, 2023
Hunter Luepke, FB, North Dakota State (FCS)
6-1, 236 lbs, 4.61 sec 40, RAS 9.54
NFL Comp: Kyle Juszczyk
BrisVegas Draft Projection: Rounds 5 to 6
Rushing: 98 att, 619 yds, 6.3 avg, 9 TD
Receiving: 14 rec, 196 yds, 14 yd avg, 4 TD, 0 fumbles
Hunter Luepke, is the best fullback prospect to come out of college since Kyle Juszcyk in 2013, and could well be the most entertaining player to watch in the 2023 draft class. He was a featured back for the North Dakota Bison from 2020 to 2022, and rushed for 1,665 yards and 24 TDs (Avg. 6.1 yds/carry), adding 38 receptions for 494 yards and 9 TDs. He was the MVP of the 2022 NCAA Division I Football Championship game, in which he rushed for 82 yards and 3 TDs.
He fits the new prototype for the position as an ultra-athletic, versatile offensive weapon. He has the strength and power to anchor against edge rushers in pass protection and clear lanes for running backs as a lead blocker, combined with the athleticism and ball skills to create coverage mismatches against linebackers and defensive backs as a receiver. He also offers value as a straight ahead, between-the-tackles rusher, and is known for lowering his shoulder to knock over defenders. He is not an elusive runner, but gains yard after contact by breaking tackles.
If he lands with an innovative offensive coordinator, with the courage to push the envelope, he could carry the torch from Mike Alstott as the next featured fullback, exploiting weaknesses at the second level created by the switch to nickel defense and smaller, faster linebackers.
Late Day 3
Brayden Willis, TE/H-back, Oklahoma
6-3.5, 241 lbs, RAS 4.64 (incomplete)
NFL Comp: Josh Oliver
Rushing: 10 att, 26 yds, 2.6 yd avg
Receiving: 39 rec, 514 yds, 7 TD
Passing: 1 cmp, 1 att, 24 yds, 1 TD
BrisVegas Draft Projection: Rounds 6 to 7
Willis primarily played tight end for the Sooners and demonstrated added versatility as a runner, blocker, four-phase specials teams player, and even as an occasional wildcat QB. He is one of the best blocking TEs in the 2023 draft class, and consistently locks up linebackers and edge defenders in the run game. His ability as a lead blocker was on full display at the Senior Bowl, where he opened running lanes for Tyjae Spears, and may have helped to push the Tulane back up draft boards. He has aligned offset or in-line at Oklahoma. His best value to an NFL team is likely to be as an H-back, where he can pick up pass rushers or lead block, while providing enough threat as a receiver to keep defenses honest.
Jack Colletto, FB/LB/QB, Oregon St
6-3, 240, 4.75 sec 40, RAS 5.69
NFL Comp: Spencer Larsen crossed with Taysom Hill
BrisVegas Draft Projection: 6th round to UDFA
Rushing: 27 att, 103 yds, 3.8 avg, 6 TD
Receiving: 3 rec, 46 yds, 15.3 yd avg, 0 TD
Defense: 27 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Passing: 2 att, 2 completions, 53 yds, 26.5 yds/att
Kick Returns: 1 return, -2 yds
Jack Colletto was nicknamed Jackhammer by his teammates in recognition of his physical, downhill approach to blocking, tackling and pounding the rock. He is a deep sleeper prospect in the 2023 draft, but at least one team was interested enough to invite him for a Top 30 visit. Colletto played his first two years with the Beavers at quarterback, then made the transition to linebacker and fullback as a junior, as well as being a core special teams player.
Colletto is a violent tackler on defense and on special teams coverage units. As a fullback he brings intensity as a lead blocker, and is an effective ball carrier in the open field and short-yardage situations. He was used sparingly as a receiver in his senior year. He is not a fit for every team, but could appeal as fullback with versatility to be used as a wildcat QB in red-zone situations.
Javon Williams, FB, Southern Illinois
6-3, 238 lbs, 4.81 sec 40, RAS 6.89
NFL Comp: I’m stumped
BrisVegas Draft Projection: 7th round to UDFA
Rushing: 121 att, 415 yds, 3.4 yd avg, 9 TD
Receiving: 28 rec, 245 yds, 8.8 yd avg
Kick Returns: 15 ret, 342 yds, 22.8 yd avg
Passing: 10 cmp, 16 att, 138 yds, 0 INT
The Southern Illinois Salukis website describes Williams as generational talent who will be sadly missed after declaring for the 2023 draft. He is the most versatile player in this round up, and just might make an NFL roster as a multi-purpose fullback, wildcat QB and even return specialist. In 49 career games, he scored 50 touchdowns as a rusher, receiver and passer.
Is he really a fullback, or just a big running back who can play wildcat QB? It’s a fair question. If he was asked to block for the Salukis, there is no record of it on video. Then again, there isn’t a lot of video available and what there is seems to be mostly handheld shots people posted from their phones. There also don’t appear to be any detailed scouting reports. Based on how he takes on defenders when he’s rushing, I would imagine he would be a ferocious lead blocker.
There are obvious questions about the level of competition he played against in college, not to mention how he would fit in an NFL offense. But then you have to ask yourself, is there really any better use of a late 7th round pick than a 6-3, 238 lb back who can throw TD passes and return kicks? If he’s available after the draft, sign him up!
Acknowledgement: Edited by James Dorsett. Special thanks to Josh Harris, Mitchell Rales and Magic Johnson for giving us our team back.
Which of these players would you most like to see the Commanders draft?
This poll is closed
Sorry, if he’s not OL, I’m not interested