Does Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson perform better when he has a strong lead-blocker at fullback? Or is that nothing more than a perception?
It’s true that many of the NFL’s top rushing attacks depnd on a fullback who can block the first defender who attacks the gap. Since Johnson was drafted in 2008, his primary fullbacks have been Ahmard Hall (2008-11) and Quinn Johnson (2012).
Quinn Johnson is an unrestricted free agent. Pro Football Focus wasn’t impressed with his work. In 257 snaps, Johnson had a -1.7 rating. The Titans must decide on whether they want to re-sign Johnson, move on with Collin Mooney or pursue outside options.
How much does a top fullback cost? Vonta Leach built his reputation as a lead-blocker for Houston Texans running back Arian Foster. In 2011, the Baltimore Ravens signed Leach to a three-year, $11 million deal. He replaced Le’Ron McClain, a hybrid of a fullback and halfback.
Some intriguing options exist in free agency. Let’s look at a couple of unrestricted free agents and one potential cap casualty.
Jerome Felton (Minnesota Vikings)
Jerome Felton was one of the lead-blockers for Adrian Peterson during his 2012 MVP season. Felton excels more as an off-tackle blocker. That could fit Chris Johnson, who prefers to run outside. Felton is also serviceable as a receiver.
Pro Football Focus graded him with a 9.3 rating. That’s the highest rating among unrestricted free-agent fullbacks. While the Vikings are expected to re-sign the Pro Bowler, Felton may test the open market.
James Casey (Houston Texans)
Sound familiar? In 2012, James Casey had two of his three touchdown receptions against the Titans. Casey is an H-back (cross between a fullback and tight end). He’s a significant component on special teams. His versatility was best shown when he played for the Rice University. He played seven different positions in one game.
Pro Football Focus graded him with a 7.0 rating. USA Today named him to the 21st annual All-Joe Team. In 2012, Casey was named as a Pro Bowl alternate.
Adding Casey could help the Titans. Not only that, but it subtracts from their divisional rival.
Vonta Leach (Baltimore Ravens)
The Ravens have many roster decisions to make. That’s because of a large group of unsigned free agents. Topping that list is Joe Flacco, who could demand a nine-digit contract after his Super Bowl run.
Leach is scheduled to count $4.333 million against the cap. That includes a $3 million base salary.
Verdict: Colin Mooney
Mooney is signed through the 2014-15 season. Look for him to get every opportunity to win the starting job. Why would the Tennessee Titans keep a fullback on a practice squad unless they loved him?
No reason to keep Quinn Johnson. Two fullbacks are unnecessary. Craig Stevens can serve as an emergency fullback.