If the Green Bay Packers really and truly are going to be better at running the football, as head coach Mike McCarthy vowed they’d be this offseason, they’d be advised to add a jackhammer type of fullback to their offense.
McCarthy didn’t mince words in June during the team’s Organized Team Activities when he said, “We’ll be better, I can promise you that. You can write that down, big letters.”
But now McCarthy needs help from general manager Ted Thompson in acquiring a fullback capable of opening holes and punishing linebackers, if indeed the Packers are committed to keeping a fullback on their roster.
In both 2009 and 2010, the Packers surprisingly employed three fullbacks, and won a Super Bowl while doing so. Now they’re down to just one true fullback, John Kuhn, who’s 30 years old and entering his eighth year in professional football.
While Kuhn doesn’t have a reputation of being a bulldozer of a blocker and his skills as a runner have diminished, this isn’t an indictment of the folk hero fullback either.
There’s plenty Kuhn does well from being a personal protector of Aaron Rodgers in the passing game to possessing an intimate knowledge of McCarthy’s offense to being a reliable receiver out of the backfield to his capability of playing in one-back sets to being a solid locker room presence to his contributions on special teams.
But Kuhn is merely average at the one aspect of the game that’s requisite for a fullback in the NFL, and that’s acting as a lead blocker in the running game. According to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), Kuhn graded out as 12th out of 25 NFL fullbacks who played at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in 2012. That’s up from a ranking of 20th in 2011.
After adding two running backs in the first four rounds of the NFL draft in the form of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, the need for an effective lead blocker has never been higher during the McCarthy era in Green Bay.
With a true power runner like Lacy in the fold, the need for using Kuhn as a short-yardage and goal-line ball carrier is diminished. And as Kuhn’s responsibilities in the Packers offense likewise decrease, the urgency for a fullback that’s primarily used as a run blocker is only exacerbated.
Former Packers fullback and three-time Pro Bowler Vonta Leach is currently a free agent after being cut by the Baltimore Ravens, but Green Bay reportedly isn’t among five teams in the running to acquire Leach’s services.
As one of the top blocking fullbacks in today’s game, Leach wouldn’t be a bad option for the Packers. But they likely don’t want to get into a bidding war for a player who’s already 31 years old. More than likely, Leach will be seeking a multi-year contract, something the Packers would be hesitant to offer to someone who’s no longer on the sunny side of 30.
The Packers did sign Jonathan Amosa out of Washington as an undrafted free agent this season, but until the pads go on during training camp, Amosa will remain an unknown entity.
More than likely Kuhn will be spending the 2013 season in a Packers uniform, a nod to an experienced player whose best quality might be his pass blocking. And for a team that just made Rodgers the highest-paid player in NFL history, they’re going to want to protect their investment.
But seeing as Kuhn’s contract expires after the current season, his long-term future in Green Bay is in question. When Kuhn’s time comes to a close, it will be time for the Packers to make a philosophical shift at the fullback position.
They need to find a buiser, the type that can open holes for Lacy and Franklin for years to come, and it’s up to Thompson to find that player.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email email@example.com.