I'm working on the sizing up the Niners post. My wife and I are expecting our first child, and as you might imagine, it's really exciting. Anyway, the first doctor visit was Friday and we ducked away for the weekend to celebrate the good news. Ok, that's enough about me...
Let's talk about an exciting subject...fullbacks! (Has the draft's sheen waned so much as to bring up this conversation?) Last year, with a tape and bailing wire o-line, the Rams lack of blocking from less celebrated quarters like TE and FB became even more of a hindrance, limiting the damage Steven Jackson was able to do on runs through the line as well as undercut screen plays. Obviously a FB or TE isn't going to have the same impact of say a healthy Orlando Pace, but it's an important element nonetheless.
Tight end blocking is pretty well shored up with the Anthony Becht signing. The Rams are looking elsewhere to answer the fullback question. Last year's second round head scratch pick, Brian Leonard, is a solid runner and pass catcher (although he wasn't helped with the depleted o-line last season), but blocking at the NFL level proved not to be his forte. However, the Rams had him bulk up this offseason with the expectation that he'll do more lead blocking. With more certainty at LG with new addition Jacob Bell and hopefully fewer injuries at C and RG, his task should be helped a bit, but some of the more elite LBs and strong safeties Leonard will run into still figure to have an advantage.
The Rams also signed Kansas FB, Brandon McAnderson as an undrafted rookie free agent. One scouting report called McAnderson a "fringe player," but at 6' 235 lbs he has a little more of the Sherman tank build of a FB than Brian Leonard, who clocked in at 6' 2" 226 lbs last season. In college, McAnderson displayed a nice ability to punch it in from the goalline, and even racked up 1100+ yards and 16 TDs for a Kansas powerhouse that came to be loathed across much of the Show Me State.
Illini FB Russ Weil, anotehr rookie FA signing, will also get a look in camp.
In a Q n' A session on the Rams home page, Nick Wagoner offered some insight into the Rams FB plans :
McAnderson has some chops as a runner and if he proves to be a capable blocker, he’s got a real shot to make it. Weil is more of a blocker but has some decent hands and could also be in the mix. The Rams usually use more of an H-Back as opposed to a true lead blocker. Joe Klopfenstein has done some of this in the past and Anthony Becht is also capable. Leonard will be considered the top “fullback” on the depth chart but he will be used in a variety of ways.
And that's where we come to the final point: how important is a FB? Al Saunders and Joe Gibbs used the H-back in Washington, which is essentially more of a hybird tight end that blocks some, runs routes, and works pass protection. The Rams even used this approach some with Klopfenstein last season, as pointed out above. McAnderson showed some ball handling ability in college, but route running may be a stretch. The Becht signing really could eliminate the need for a one dimensional FB, and Brian Leonard may prove to be more than capable in the occasional H-back role himself. McAnderson's value might come more on special teams.