Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nittany Lions in the Pros - Fullbacks

The third installment of Nittany Lions in the Pros will focus on an unheralded and mostly ignored position: fullback. Previous NLITP installments can be found here (DBs) and here (DEs).

Here are the few Penn State alums that have gone on to play FB in the NFL since 1966...

Click to enlarge statistics.

The fullback position - considered by many to be a dying position - is not glamorous. You're asked to the dirty work of clearing the road for the RB or picking up blitzers to protect the QB. Rarely do they get any carries. There is little fame for a FB. However if they don't do their job the impacts are grave. The RB is stuffed, possibly injured from a big hit by a LB. The QB is blindsided because the FB whiffed on his assignment. Not good.

There have been 91 FBs drafted since 1966, an average of just over two per year. So, yeah, it's not a high priority position. There has not been a FB drafted in the 1st round since 1994 (William Floyd, Florida State, 24th pick by San Francisco) anda FB hasn't been selected earlier than the 5th round in the last five drafts. FBs are considered a dime a dozen.

For Penn State, things are even worse. There have been only five former Nittany Lions to play FB in the NFL in the last 43 years. All of their playing time has occurred since 1992. Fortunately, four of the five Penn State FBs were in fact drafted, which is quite unusual. Most FBs make their way onto NFL rosters as priority UDFAs. Not Penn State. Omar Easy was the highest drafted FB (4th round, 2002), though he kind of was a hybrid RB/FB. All in all, the five Penn State FBs have accumulated 35 years in the NFL - 12 as starters - with three Pro Bowl appearances.

Though limited in number, Penn State FBs have certainly made a mark in the NFL. Choosing the best comes down to two: Richie Anderson and Sam Gash (though Sean mcHugh could make a name for himself in the coming years). Both played 12 seasons in the NFL, with Anderson as a starter for six and Gash a starter for five. Anderson made one Pro Bowl to Gash's two. However, Gash was 2nd Team All-Pro on two occasions (1998-1999, with Buffalo) and appeared in two Super Bowls (XXXI with New England and XXXV with Baltimore), winning once. For that, Sam Gash is my choice as the Nittany Lion Standout.

2009 DRAFT
Why am I focusing on the FB position? Well our very own Dan Lawlor is making the jump this April. Lawlor appeared in 25 games as a Nittany Lion, gaining 85 yards on 22 rushes, and scoring three TDs. He also had one reception for nine yards. Lawlor took over the starting FB duties in the middle of the 2007 season, thanks to a knee injury suffered by senior Matt Hahn. You can generally tell fullbacks are doing their job when no one talks about them. Mission accomplished; Lawlor has rarely heard his name whispered around Happy Valley. He was not invited to the combine so he will have to impress at the Penn State pro day workout in March. Lawlor has the size (6-2, 244) to be a successful FB in the NFL. He has the frame to add more size and strength while maintaining his above average speed. Lawlor should be signed as an UDFA after the draft.

Though Penn State has produced a mere five FBs in the Super Bowl Era, they have solid players. It's tough to make the All Pro 1st Team or appear in the Pro Bowl as a fullback - they generally only take one each year. Gash and Anderson showed Penn State has success with the position. McHugh is starting to make a name for himself, plus he just won a Super Bowl with Pittsburgh. Lawlor can add to the list this fall.

Nittany Lions in the Pros will be back on Friday, when I take a look at Penn State kickers in the NFL. Is Kevin Kelly the next Robbie Gould?

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