Friday, May 31, 2019

Building a Wall—Notable Improvements in Run Defense. Part I

By TJ Troup and John Turney
Many teams have played strong run defense, but what teams improved the most from one season to the next? And why? Was it the scheme, personnel, or a combination of those with a new coach or coaches?

Let's start with the 1955 Redskins. Kuharich wants to keep his job, and the 1954 Skins were porous in the secondary, and could not stop the run as they won 3 and lost 9 on the season.

Dick Evans comes to Washington to coach the line, and he brings out the best in the holdovers. Washington had used the standard 4-3 often in 1953 under Lambeau (mixing it with the 5-2) but it was abandoned in 1954.

The Washington Redskins were the first team to use the standard 4-3 defense on virtually every down for a complete season making Chuck Drazenovich the first true middle linebacker. Others had played it some but in terms of playing it nearly every down, all season Drazenovich is the guy.

Personnel-wise there are upgrades at two positions in the secondary. Left corner Roy Barni is as tough as nine fields of Texas onions, and when asked to stop the sweep he attacks the ball carrier with a vengeance.

Left or strong safety many times to the wide side of the field is veteran Norb Hecker returning from Canada. He is a savvy due to experience, has the size, and is a fine tackler.

Coming over from Detroit is right linebacker Torgy Torgeson, and he also has experience and knows how to play championship defense. Ralph Felton plays left linebacker, and gives a strong effort, yet he helped by being aligned behind the premier left defensive end in football in Gene Brito.
Returning from Canada, Brito has not lost his enthusiasm for the game; in fact, he would probably have been voted Defensive Player of the Year in a close vote with teammate Chuck Drazenovich or Joe Schmidt of the Lions had such an award existed at the time.

Since he was mentioned; Chuck Drazenovich EARNS his first Pro Bowl, and plays the position like he was born to it. The middle linebacker must scrape, and fill running lanes, and "Charley Cro" sure accomplishes this. Chet Ostrowski does a commendable job at right defensive end, and the two big tackles Peters & Kimmel keep blockers off of Drazenovich. Defeating the world champion Browns on opening day is a sure fire way to begin the season, but Washington loses three of their next five.
At the halfway point at 3-3 the Skins run defense has allowed 825 yards (137 a game). During the '54 campaign, the Eagles destroyed Washington twice as Adrian Burk set a league record with 12 touchdown passes in the two games played between these longtime rivals.

Philadelphia does not have a particularly strong running attack, and on November 6th in a game, Washington must have the 'Skins stonewall the Eagles on the ground. Having the complete game film, there is no doubt each running play could be digested—yet here is the breakdown as the three Eagle running backs gained just 32 yards on 14 attempts. Philadelphia attempted straight dive plays, toss sweeps, and draw plays. None of them were effective, as the longest run of 8 yards came on a 4th quarter draw play by Giancanelli.

Gene Brito aligned on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle quickly shed the attempted block and forced the running back on sweeps to go even wider or cut back into the pursuit of Drazenovich and the rest of the 'Skins defense. Rangy Volney Peters used arm over techniques and his hands to shed blocks and play a superb game.
All members of the front seven had their moments as the 'Skins won 34-21 (Burk & Thomasson threw repeatedly as the game progressed and gained yards, but could not get the lead). The only team with any real success in running the ball against Washington all year was Cleveland as Curly Morrison gained 117 on 15 carries.

The offensive coordinator of the New York football Giants; Mr. Vince Lombardi instituted "zone blocking" and as such the Giants rebounded the second half of the year and gained 264 yards in the two victories over Washington, but those yards came grudgingly.

The 'Skins run defense allows just 450 total rushing yards the last six games of the year for a season total of 1,304 or a 913-yard improvement over the disaster of '54. Their yards per carry allowed also dropped from 4.4 to 3.1 and they cut the rushing touchdowns from 20 to seven as Washington records an 8-4 record.

Since TJ mentioned the 1972 Rams when this project was discussed, I will open with them. TJ watched a 1972 highlight set of an early-season game where the visiting Rams gave up 297 yards rushing to the Falcons—just gashed them all day and the next season the Rams run defense was its usual stellar self.

To get to 1973 we have to start from 1966-70 when George Allen was the head coach and also the defensive coordinator, it was HIS defense. From 66-70 Allen's run defense gave up 3.3 yards per rush. He'd been fired and was the Redskins coach in 1971. He was replaced by Tommy Prothro who had been the coach at UCLA and he brought with him defensive ideas even though his forte was offensive football. He hired Sid Hall to be the defensive line coach, Hall made his bones at San Diego state but had spent 1969-70 with John Madden in Oakland.

In 1971 All-Pro defensive end Deacon Jones had a sprained arch that dogged him much of the season and Merlin Olsen had a decent Pro Bowl season but he was coming off a knee injury he sustained in the previous Pro Bowl. Also, the Rams were starting Phil Olsen (also on a mending knee), Merlin's brother at right tackle and the right end in 1971 was Coy Bacon, a great pass rusher who was not committed to stopping the run.

Late in the season in a Monday Night game, Allen's Redskins beat the Rams in LA and among the key series was one on the goal line where Allen ran the ball at Deacon Jones to score. It was noted by the Monday Night crew, and all the papers that Deacon had been run on.

In the offseason, the Rams send Deacon to the Chargers and traded for former Giant defensive end Fred Dryer who had been traded to the Patriots but wouldn't report. In 1971 the Rams had drafted Jack Youngblood in the first round and he'd made some All-Rookie teams playing for Deacon when he was down and on passing downs in the Rams '57' defense.

So, going into 1972 the Rams had Bacon, a fixture at right end, Dryer who'd only played right end in the NFL and college and Jack Youngblood who was a left end and felt like a "fish out of water" on the right side.
After the trade for Dryer was worked out then plan was that he would take Deacon's spot and Bacon would have the right and Youngblood would battle for the right end position. Dryer said that he could learn to play left and all it took was time and reps.

Well, somewhere early in training camp Prothro decided that since Coy was 20 pounds or so larger than both Dryer and Youngblood that he should play left end and that Dryer should go to the right and Youngblood could challenge him there. And that's how camp went until very late, very near the beginning of the season.

What happened then is Bacon balked at player left end halfway into the preseason schedule. Even with all camp to work on it, he was never comfortable on the left side. And he made threats,, he got his wish and moved to his usual right end spot.
The third preseason game, 1972. Bacon still on left side of defense.
This pissed Dryer off because now he's on the left side and he didn't get the six weeks of reps he felt he needed to play left end. He vocalized the disdain for the move to the Rams coaching staff.  "Prothro let Coy run all over the coaching staff, no one would take a strong hand with him and it really affected the team chemistry" Dryer remembers.

So, as it worked out that's how things took place and all this took place with the regular season looming. Now, Bacon was the right end and, according to Protho and Youngblood would start versus running teams and Dryer would start versus passing teams. Dryer asked, "How are we to know exactly”? So, as can be seen, the defensive line, the most talented group, was in disarray.

And the first week in '71, versus the Saints, there wasn't an issue, but in week two they gave up 144 yards to the Bears and then the aforementioned 297 to the Falcons. They were okay then versus the 49ers then had an excellent game versus the hapless Eagles and thumped them.
Nettles and Howard, good coverage guys, starters in 1972
The Bengals ran on them and then it Oakland they gave up 213 and it looked like 313. The Raiders used their "East" formation and isolated Phil Olsen and Coy Bacon and the Raider backs pounded the ball behind Gene Upshaw and Art Shell.

The Oakland papers picked up on it and it was even memorialized in Murray Olderman's book The Defenders.
So, after that game, the Rams made a change and inserted Larry Brooks, a rookie, into the right tackle spot in place of Phil Olsen. The rest of the year they gave up an average of 100 yards a game, an improvement but proved to be too little too late in terms of the playoffs.

According to Dryer, there was no real technique being taught by the Rams coaches, the Rams did what they always did, ran up the field and reacted to the run, but it didn't work like it did in the 1960s due to the tweaks brought in by the new coaches and the youth on this new line.

Additionally, Youngblood remembers in both 1971 and 1972 that the coaches would install the defensive gameplan with particular line calls and stunts the players would listen politely. Then, after the coaches left Merlin or Deacon would then tell the younger players what they were really going to do.

"The coaches had us trying to do slants from outside a player across his face to the inside. That may work at San Diego State (defensive line coach Sid Hall's school) but it wasn't going to work in the NFL. That's why Merlin and Deacon would take over" recalls Youngblood. It's a wonder things were not worse.

However, even after Brooks became the starter the damage was done and the Rams, though doing better versus the run, at that point they had a stalled offense and a quarterback (Roman Gabriel) with a bum arm. The players grew weary of coach Tommy Prothro and things got even more bizarre.

Here is just one example:

Once, when Prothro was out of his office Merlin Olsen, Dryer and Youngblood let themselves in, to be mischevious at best. Someone, maybe Merlin saw Protho's briefcase on his desk and opened it up. They saw a couple of cartons of Pall Malls and a betting card—the kind bookies gave to clients in that era. Hmm.
All told, the Rams gave up 1,762 rushing yards and allowed 4.0 a carry. Those numbers are not bad, but they were not Ram like, given the recent tradition. The Rams finished 6-7-1 their first losing season since 1965. Prothro was fired and the Rams hired Chuck Knox.

So, when Chuck Knox got hired he got the lowdown on all the players. When he heard Coy Bacon wouldn't play the run he sent him packing to San Deigo where he'd play with Deacon Jones. he took Jack Youngblood aside, gave him a copy of and said, "You're my left end".

Knox handled Fred Dryer differently. He called Dryer to his office and said, "You and Phil Olsen will compete for the right end spot. You are going to have to prove you can play right end at 225 pounds in the NFL". Dryer's response was "That's what I've been doing"  referring to the fact that he'd played well at that size for four seasons in the NFL.

Knox and Dryer had crossed paths a couple of months earlier when Knox, then the Detroit Lions offensive line coach, came up to Dryer after the game and asked him, "What went on here this year". Dryer, who had no I idea who Knox was other than a coach for the Lions said, "You have no idea what went on here this year. It's a looney bin".

Due to the things we've mentioned and more, Dryer through his agent had asked the owner to trade Dryer after the season. The owner, Carroll Rosenbloom, told Dryer's agent "things will be different next year, there will be changes".

When Dryer picked up the LA paper one day he saw that the Rams had hired Knox and he realized that was the coach who stopped him on the field in December.

Dryer didn't mind the competition at the right end position, he knew his skills and abilities and he cared about winning and playing well so he was confident he would win the spot. He used camp to learn and perfect the butt technique and the coordinated defense Malavasi brought.

By the time preseason came around, it was clear Dryer, despite being only 225 pounds could play the run well due to scheme and technique and he was the clear starter for the season. So, the front four was set—Youngblood, Merlin Olsen, Brooks, and Dryer with Phil Olsen backing up the ends and Bill Nelson backing up the tackles.

At middle linebacker, Marlin McKeever was solid in 1971 but in 1972 he was not so solid. He'd lost a step, he'd make defensive calls that would give him the least responsibility and the defense sometimes got hurt because of it. McKeever was cut in '73 camp and played that season with the Eagles, his last in the NFL.
McKeever also cut in camp, 1973
He was at first to be replaced by Bob Stein (who the Rams obtained from the Chiefs for Willie Ellison) but he got hurt in camp when he was in a position battle with Jack Reynolds (who was a #1 pick in 1970 but had yet to secure a starting position). Hacksaw stepped into the void and held the starting job for the next eight seasons. He was short, not fast, but was like a computer in terms of making defensive calls and adjustments and would hit and tackle. 

Left linebacker (Stub) Jim Purnell was not good in 1972 (he was listed at 229 but looked 215) and in 1973 Ken Geddes, a big (6-3, 235), talented player who had a tough time staying healthy in the past few seasons took over for Purnell. After Stein recovered from his camp injury he competed some at left linebacker but Geddes beat him out, too. 

Isiah Robertson was the RLB (Buck). Robertson was excellent as a rookie in 1971 but tried to do too much in 1972 and was often out of position. He didn't play a disciplined game in 1972. However, he took to Knox and the nest scheme.

Nineteen seventy-two starters Jim Nettles  (free safety) and Gene Howard  (cornerback) were around in '73 camp but both were cut. Jim Nettles was a decent ball-hawking free safety in 1972 (he had been a cornerback previous to that) but was not a tackler, and he lost his job to journeyman Steve Preece, who was so-so in ball skills but would hit and tackle.
Nettles and Howard. No tackle, no job
Howard had a fine 1971 season in coverage (gave up just one touchdown) but lost his edge in 1972, as did Clancy Williams (who started some but was battling injuries), a long-time Rams corner who hung 'em up after 1972. Rookie Eddie McMillan won the right corner spot and the Rams went through a few players at left corner. They even tried out Herb Adderly there but eventually traded for Charlie Stukes a 6-3 zone corner with little speed but a lot of ability in run force.

Tellingly, Nettles, Howard, Purnell, and Clancy Williams never played another down in the NFL.

The Los Angeles Times called this new group "Merlin Olsen and the 11 Question Marks" and when the Rams went 1-5 in the preseason the sarcasm looked to be a reality. Olsen, the only Ram defender to play great in 1972 (Isiah Robertson, Dave Elmendorf, Jack Youngblood, Bacon, and Dryer all had their moments but none did it consistently) defended this new iteration of the Rams defense. He said it was potentially the best the Rams had in his time with the club. Writers scoffed.

Chuck Knox hired Ray Malavasi to as his defensive coordinator, taking over for Tom Catlin (who remained as the linebackers coach). Malavasi cut his teeth in the AFL and he brought an "AFL defense" to the Rams which meant defensive fronts would be the major consideration when putting in defensive calls.

Although they used some overs and unders the Rams, under Allen (and Marion Campbell who was the defensive line coach for Alle), then Catlin in 1971-72 was an "even" defense. In 1973 Malavasi changed that. They'd overshift towards the tight end in an effort to overplay the run. Or if the team was a weakside running team they'd play the undershift for that game. No one was going to run on them anymore.

In addition to the scheme change, they were coached to play the run in a different way. In the past, they play the run on to the quarterback but didn't have any particular thing to do to stop the run. They relied on the athletic ability of Deacon, Bacon, Lundy, Brown, etc., to run up the field and if it was a run they'd make the stop.

Now, the subtle change was they'd use the "butt technique" which was to slam their hands on the shoulders of the blocker and their facemask against the offensive lineman's facemask and control the blocker, dominate him rather than finesse him. They'd use that technique and know where the play was going.  The finesse came versus the pass if the play was a pass they'd just continue on.

Malavasi also played a more coordinated gap sound scheme that made sure all the holes were covered. He and Knox both agreed that the linebackers and defensive backs had to be more physical. Knox drilled them and made sure they were a hard-hitting team at all eleven positions rather than just the front four. And as was mentioned the new starters (Reynolds, Geddes, Preece, Stukes) were all solid tacklers.

All of this worked since in 1973 they were first against the rush and allowed the fewest touchdowns rushing in the NFL (it also didn't hurt the pass rush as they went for 42 sacks to 45). It also worked for more than 1973—While Malavasi was the defensive coordinator (1973-77) the Rams were first in total defense, first in lowest points allowed, first in rush defense, first in fewest rushing touchdowns, third in lowest yards per rush, had the second most sacks, the second most interceptions, the second-lowest defensive passer rating and had the second-most pick sixes.

So, even though it's not a 913-yard difference like the '55 Redskins achieved it did amount to 493 fewer rushing yards from 1972 to 1973 and the Rams cut the yards per carry from 4.0 to 3.5.

Individually, Merlin Olsen was the NFC Defensive Lineman of the Year, Isiah Robertson was second in the voting for AP Defensive Player of the Year. Eddie McMillan was tied for second in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Robertson was All-Pro, Olsen was All-NFC, Youngblood was Second-team All-Pro (had had 16½ sacks and 13½ tackles for loss), Jack Reynolds got All-Pro from the Newark Star.
Chuck Knox was the consensus NFL Coach of the Year, and had there been a coordinator of the Year Award Malavasi would have likely won that.

In 1974 the success continued as they led the NFL in rushing defense again and led the NFC in sacks. Youngblood and Dryer were both All-Pro and Olsen and Brooks were both Second-team All-Pro as was Dave Elmendorf. That kind of success went on through 1979 when they set the NFL record for fewest yards allowed in a game with -7 in Seattle. But more on that in November.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this discussion between TJ and JT.

The Top Blocking Fullbacks of the Past Forty Years

By John Turney
 The recent NFL fullback is a niche position, it's a position that hadn't existed since likely the 1930s in the old single wing until a facsimile of it appeared in the late-1970s with the popularization of single back offenses.

We think the first to use this position was the Oilers when Earl Campbell became their superstar back. The Oilers liked the "I" formation and would line up Tim Wilson in front of him to lead block for Campbell.
Oddly, the name "fullback" is a misnomer. We spoke to Chuck Noll about that in the mid-1990s. We asked about Moose Johnston and the "guard in the backfield" position we were seeing all over the NFL. Noll said, "What you are seeing is the fullback offense. Johnston is actually the halfback and Emmitt Smith is the fullback." Coaching terminology tweaked those to call the fullback a tailback and the halfback a fullback.

Johnston's success led to the new fullback spot having a place on the Pro Bowl roster and a few seasons later the All-Pro team purveyors added the position as well.

So, to be clear, we are not talking about the great running fullbacks like Jim Brown or Jim Taylor. Nor are we talking about the all-around fullbacks like John L. Williams, Roland Harper, or Jim Braxton—players who blocked well, but also ran. We will deal with those in a separate post.

The typical season for the kind of fullbacks we are mentioning here would be maybe 45 carries in a season and maybe that many receptions, give or take.

But the key thing is if they blocked for dominant rushers with more emphasis on three blocks: lead (ILBs), kick-out & hook (edge players) on runs, plus pass-protection, of course.

For a fullback it is as important on run blocks, especially on ILBs, to have same "avoid-adjust" eyes/moves as if ball-carrying. Running backs can move a defender with his eye and the fullback has to do the same or every block would be a spatter. Sometimes that is needed but no one could do it play after play without some finesse.

In short, due to the many responsibilities some scouts think modern fullback is the NFL's toughest position outside of quarterback, physically and mentally.

Back in the day, we say Paul Maguire talking about the wisdom of a fullback to a caller on a Bills coaches show. The caller asked why the Bills didn't use Kenneth Davis along with Thurman Thomas since Davis was looking good as a ball carrier. Maguire said "There is only one ball. And I understand you want deception, but if one guy carriers you have to have a blocker and neither Davis nor Thomas can do that."

Here is our list. We are confident in the top five. After that it's too hard to separate them, so we relied on how long they played effectively and all the other things we've used in previous posts. So, don't be dismayed if you think, for example, #20t. is better than #17. You very well could be right—these players are so similar their isn't tons different between them, except for the top of the list, those we think, stand out.

Here is the list:
1. Daryl Johnston
Always stellar, always graded high by Mike Giddings, Emmitt would tell you he's the best ever. He blocked for the NFL's all-time rusher and has three Super Bowl rings. What else is there?

He was All-Pro in 1993 by USA Today and Sports Illustrated. In 1994 and 1995 USA Today again named him All-Pro.

2. Lorenzo Neal
A physical freak, he seemingly played for half the teams in the NFL but it was only seven. Amazing size and power—5-11 and 255 pounds (listed) but had to be 10-15 pounds heavier. He was a two-time All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler and was All-2000s, the first decade there was a blocking back on the team. In the 1990s the choice would have been Johnston for sure.

Neal blocked for Eddie George and Corey Dillon but his best stint was with the Chargers where he blocked for LaDainian Tomlinson from 2003 to 2007 and during that time Tomlinson averaged 1,546 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns per season.

3. Tom Rathman
Rathman was the guy Moose Johnston looked to for film study and how he patterned his game. In 1992 Rathman was the first of these new-style fullbacks to gain postseason honors when USA Today named him All-Pro as a fullback.

4. Sam Gash
Like Neal, not quite as big, maybe around 245 pounds. Went to two Pro Bowls and got a Super Bowl ring in 2000 with the Ravens.

5. Kyle Juszczyk
One of the last of a breed, Jusczyk is a factor in the passing game and is a top-notch blocker. He's only going into his seventh season, so he's still young but we've picked players early in their careers (Aaron Donald, Justin Tucker, and others) on this list. We put a premium on peak performance. And watching a guy pass protect, lead block, and run a wheel route 20-25 yards downfield is impressive. He's the best in the game and has been for the last three seasons and was excellent before that.

6. John Kuhn
Was All-Pro and went to three Pro Bowls. Was effective as a goal line runner. He played a dozen seasons and in 166 games.

7. Mack Strong
Strong played 14 seasons and was a Pro Bowler twice and an All-Pro once. Even played in a lot of 3rd and long situations as only the back to be outlet receiver and pass blocker.

8. William Henderson
Henderson was All-Pro once. He was one of the better receivers for the "block first" types on this list. he played twelve seasons and 188 games.

9. Vonta Leach
A three-time All-Pro, he played 11 years. One of the bigger guys (260-265 or so).

10. Le'Ron McClain
Once All-Pro, two Pro Bowls. He could block, and a 900-yard rushing season and had great size (over 260). But he had a shorter career and it dropped him on our list. He played just seven years but was graded high as a runner and lead blocker.

11. Mike Tolbert
Two All-Pros and three Pro Bowls he was pretty complete. A very good blocker, an effective runner, and a decent receiver. He played dual roles, fullback and a back who could come in on run downs as a halfback and carry the ball. He played 10 seasons and 143 games.

12. Tony Richardson
Richardson played an amazing 16 seasons. He had a few seasons where he carried the ball a lot for a fullback before settling into the 'guard in backfield' role. He was second-team All-Pro twice, went to three Pro Bowls and was All-2000s (Second-team). He was smaller, more nimble and not quite the blocker that others were, but was more complete.

13. Larry Centers
Centers was All-Pro once and a three-time Pro Bowler. He was a dual role fullback. On run downs, he was a lead blocker but was such a good receiver he played on passing downs as a third-down back.

He was relatively small and relied on technique to take out linebackers, he's not a crusher like many others on this list.

14. Kimble Anders
A three-time Pro Bowler he's a facsimile of Centers. He could run better than most, but he was smaller, quicker and not the explosive blocker-type but again, more complete.

15. Cory Schlesinger
He played twelve seasons and 183 games. He was Pro Bowl quality in 2001 and 2002, in fact in 2001 Dr. Z (Sports Illustrated) and Gordon Forbes (USA Today) named him their All-Pro fullback. Plus, anyone nicknamed "Anvil Head" belongs high on our list.

16. Mike Karney
Seven seasons 101 games and was Second-team All-Pro in 2006.

17. Mike Guman
Guman was a typical fullback until the Rams drafted Eric Dickerson, then he became their "U-Back" a fullback/tight end hybrid that lined up in the backfield, motioned, lined up on the wing. Was a big help to Dickerson's early years.

18. Zack Crockett
At time could run as a base back, but was excellent as a goal line/short yardage runner.

19. Anthony Sherman
A throwback who is a pure blocker. Not a good receiver, not a good runner but will give splatter linebackers.

20t. Terrelle Smith
Smith played ten seasons and played in 146 games. Played in the 2008 Super Bowl with the Cardinals. More of a pure blocker, was not part of the passing game.

20t. Heath Evans
Evans also played to years and played in 143 games. Played in Super Bowl after 2007 season.

20t. Howard Griffith
Blocked for two different 1,000-yard rushers then became Terrell Davis' fullback during his glory years. Played eight seasons, 121 games. Only about 230 pounds. Was actually a very good college runner.

20t. Tim Lester
Eight seasons, 93 games for Lester. He was the lead blocker for Jerome Bettis (nicknamed "The Bus Driver" in his two best seasons (1993 with LA and 1996 with Pittsburgh).

20t. Tim Wilson
"The Human Battering Ram". We think the first "modern" fullback leading for Earl Campbell. Bum Phillips called him "the best lead blocker he's ever seen."

20t. Buford McGee
More of a ball peen hammer that a sledgehammer, he was accurate with his blocks and was a good part of the passing game.

20t. Otis Wonsley
On one lead block he hit Matt Millen in the throat and nearly left him mute (or many hoped)!. Millen yelled, "You can't hurt me!" But Millen said he couldn't swallow for three days after.

20t. Dan Kreider
Kreider played a decade and in 138 games before his warhorse body broke down. Earned a ring lead blocking for Jerome "The Bus" Bettis.

20t. Bob Christian
Christian played for a decade and played in 135 games. Best work was blocking for Jamal Anderson in Atlanta.

20t. Kevin Turner

20t. Greg Jones

20t. Tony Carter
One hundred thirty-five games and eight seasons for Carter, he blocked for a few 1,000-yard rushers.

20t. Daimon Shelton
Nine seasons, 133 games. Shelton was a bigger lead blocker, about 265 pounds.

20t. Marc Edwards

20t. Maurice Carthon

20t. Jerome Felton

20t. Jon Ritchie

20t. William Floyd
The best fullback in the NFL 'Bar None' according to himself. He was talented did it all, could run block, and catch. Dogged by injuries.

In the 2008 season, when he was playing for the Giants, Hedgecock was voted as a first alternate to the Pro Bowl and was a Second-team All-Pro.  He was also named to the Sports Illustrated All-Pro team by Peter King who quipped, "Not sure, but I think he's got an anvil in his pads."  He only got to play six seasons before his body broke down.

He also drew praise from Hall of Fame tackle Dan Dierdorf, "Hedgecock won't ever lead the NFL in rushing but he'll lead block for a lot a yards and he's a gifted receiver with soft hands who runs good routes."  

He was a college defensive end and is one of the bigger blocking backs on this list—6-3, 266 pounds.

20t. Patrick DiMarco
Second-team All-Pro in 2015. DiMarco has played six seasons and 99 games.

20t. Ovie Mughelli

Mughelli was Second-team All-Pro in both 2006 and 2010. He played 107 games in nine seasons.

20t. Marc Logan

20t. Michael Robinson
More versatile than most, not a bruiser.

20t. Marcel Reese

20t. Montell Owens

20t. Fred Beasley

20t. Steve Smith

20t. Richie Anderson

20t. Justin Griffith
20t. Fred McCrary

20t. Bruce Miller

20t. Mike Sellers

20t. Brad Hoover

20t. Jim Kleinsasser
Played both fullback and tight end/H-Back, Kleinsasser played 13 seasons and 188 games—all for the Vikings. He was a big man, 6-3, 272. He played more tight end than lead blocker, but he did both well. Also, the author of his piece was mistaken for him in Minneapolis and asked for an autograph because of said confusion back in the day. So there is that.

20t. Tony Paige

20t. Jim Finn
Finn played seven seasons and 106 games before injuries took him out of the game. Was a cult hero for Giants fans who liked his style. Decent speed (4.6-4.7) for a fullback.

20t. Greg Comella
Comella was pretty nifty for a guy who was 6-1, 245 pounds and had reliable hands.

20t. Jason McKie
20t. Zach Line
Six years and 63 games, Line has been a Pro Bowl alternate and is solid as a blocker but rarely touches ball in the passing or running game.

20t. James Develin
Still active, Develin was a Pro Bowler in 2017 and in six seasons has played in 81 games.

Seven seasons and 82 games for Polite in 2009 he was All-pro by ESPN and USA Today.

Sowell was a dynamite special teams player and in his seventh season, he finally secured the starting fullback job which he held for three seasons.

Six years and 85 games for Hall, he was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2008.

Weaver played just five seasons and 63 games but he was All-Pro in 2009.

Schmitt played just five years and 74 games. He was very powerful but his body broke down like so many of these guys.

Great size and power. He played eight seasons, 113 games and went to a Pro Bowl 199 as a special teams player. Took over fullback spot in 2001 so he didn't really get enough reps but when he hit connected it was fun to see so we included him.

20t. Carwell Gardner  
Gardner was the fullback during the Buffalo's AFC Championship seasons. There were usually in a one-back scheme, the K-Gun but when they wanted a lead blocker, Gardner was the guy. Twice he ran for four touchdowns. 

20t. Jeremi Johnson
Johnson was monster-sized 5-11, 275 pounds, he played six seasons for the Bengals. In 2005, he caught three touchdown passes, remarkable for a man of his size. 

For his position, Olawale was on the smaller side (6-1, 240) but was still very effective, especially in 2015-16 when he was one of the top, if not the top, rated fullbacks in the game.

20t. Jamie Mueller  

Only played four years because a neck injury ended his career. Mueller was one of the better runners on this list and didn't get as involved in the passing game but was a very good blocker. 

He was a very good athlete, again one of the tops in that category in term of strength and speed on this list but was also undersized at 6-1, 225 pounds in an era where many fullbacks were 240, 250-pounds or more.