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Draft Tip Sheet: Hard times for fullbacks, virtual lock at 1-2

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Rhett Ellison is one of two fullbacks at this years combine, but don't expect hiim to be drafted. (US Presswire)  
Rhett Ellison is one of two fullbacks at this years combine, but don't expect hiim to be drafted. (US Presswire)  

Of the 30 running backs in attendance for the combine workouts in Indianapolis last month, only two -- Southern Cal's Rhett Ellison and Bradie Ewing of Wisconsin -- were branded as fullbacks. Two other "draftable" players were among the tight end invitees as H-backs.

The 2011 draft produced just five players at the position, none selected above the fourth round. Arguably the top rookie fullback in the NFL last season, Henry Hynoski of the New York Giants, was an undrafted free agent.

A former University of Pittsburgh standout, and onetime record-breaking prep running back, Hynoski, who pocketed a Super Bowl ring in his debut season in the NFL, had a nugget of advice for this year's fullback candidates.

Don't take it personally.

For the most part, the fullback prospects in 2012 have heeded the advice.

"It's a position that, in the minds of some people, is barely on the radar screen," said Ellison, a former tight end whose resume with the Trojans included one rushing attempt. "There are teams that don't have a fullback on the roster, and coaches who have [vowed] not to have one. But you can't let that get in your way. If you're a good football player, no matter the system, they'll find a place for you. I mean, you can't let it get to you. If you get a chance, make the most of it."

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Maybe. But the fullback position in the NFL, while not quite extinct, is heading for dodo bird status.

Once a prominent position, fullback is an afterthought now, and a few general managers acknowledged to The Sports Xchange that they don't have a fullback candidate rated above the fifth round in the early "stacking" of their draft boards.

Some even suggested there might not be a fullback chosen in the lottery in two months. The success of Hynoski and others is both a blessing and a curse: An example to players that undrafted players can still make an impact, but also to talent evaluators that they can fill the fullback spot with low-round or undrafted players.

Or sometimes with players from other positions.

General managers used to suggest that some of the best tight end prospects were playing power forward in basketball. Well, some of the guys who will end up at fullback or H-back in the NFL were college tight ends.

"I'm probably being evaluated as much as a fullback, maybe even more so, than as a tight end," Alabama tight end Brad Smelley said. "Anymore, fullbacks come from some other position, so it's no big deal to me. If that's where scouts feel that I can most help some team, then fine."

Not only do fullback candidates sometimes come from other positions, but also from schools that typically aren't considered powerhouse programs. The top-rated fullback by NFLDraftScout's Rob Rang is Evan Rodriguez of Temple. The No. 2 prospect is UMass' Emil Igwenagu. Rang rates perhaps a handful of players as likely to be drafted at fullback. As usual, clubs will attempt to add some as free agents.

The position is not only about developing projects but also about being right in a projection for a player.

"I think they're looking for pretty [selfless] guys, players who want to win, but don't worry about getting all the credit," said Rodriquez, a former tight end. "It's what you think of when you consider the [fullback] position now."


 There figure to be plenty of scouts heading this week to the pro day workouts of quarterback prospects Robert Griffin III (Wednesday) and Andrew Luck (Thursday), but, barring some sort of upset, it will be beyond surprising if the talent evaluators come away having changed their minds about the top two signal-callers.

Or about the order in which they will come off the draft board.

"I don't know that there's a lot that [Griffin] can do to leap-frog [Luck]," said one AFC general manager who plans to attend the workouts, even though his team has no shot at either player. "I don't know that you can go wrong with either one ... but I think Luck is the guy, and has been for some time, and I just think the Colts are being politically correct, that's all."

 Sources close to both Luck and the Colts insist that team officials have not yet begun contract discussions, even in a cursory manner, with the Stanford star and his representatives.

Then again, given the scale set by the new CBA, there really isn't a lot of wiggle room, even for the top choice. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft will be in line for a slight bump from the four-year, $22 million deal signed by Cam Newton as the top pick in 2011.

By virtue of having the initial pick in the draft, the Colts, of course, are technically permitted to begin negotiations. The strong conjecture is that the team will have an agreement in place with Luck well before the start of the draft.

 While the Luck and Griffin auditions have generated a deserved share of buzz, the workouts of two other quarterbacks in the next 10-day period may actually produce as much curiosity.

Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M, who has been unable to do much because of his rehabilitation from a broken foot, will work out for scouts on March 29.

Arizona State's Brock Osweiler, who could not participate in the Sun Devils' pro day last week, will throw a day later.

The general feeling is that Tannehill, even with the injury, has separated himself from the other contenders -- Kirk Cousins of Michigan State, Osweiler, and Nick Foles of Arizona -- for the No. 3 spot in the draft pecking order.

Tannehill has been impressive in interviews and "at the chalkboard" for scouts, but is still relatively new to the position, and people are still anxious to see him throw. Tannehill's representatives told The Sports Xchange that the former A&M star is definitely on pace recovery-wise from his foot injury.

 The last word: "I'm a strong person, but you hear some of the stuff [being said about you], and it makes you even stronger. Whether you think it's fair or not, it puts a little bit of a chip on your shoulder. It's definitely a [motivating] force." -- Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, whose draft stock is believed to have dropped because of concerns about his temperament and poor workouts


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