Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Justin Griffith, Oren O’Neal and Marcel Reese; the Oakland Raiders forgotten Men

These guys are the versatile athletes that will man the position of fullback for the Oakland Raiders. The traditional fullback is a dying breed.

There are two types of fullbacks in the NFL today – the blow-up lead blocker who destroys anything in his way (think of former Charger FB Lorenzo Neal), and the athletic, do-it-all “West Coast” fullback ( think of former 49er and current Raiders running back coach Tom Rathman).

Several of the latter are overgrown college tailbacks who are adept at running and catching and can block just as well or enough to get the job done. It’s a rare player who can serve as a lead blocker, receiver and ball carrier.

Some teams divide the role, often using tight ends and H-backs to fill the receiving duties.

These are guys similar, to lineman both offensive and defensive, that do the dirty work. Lead block, pick up blitzes and are ball carriers in short yardage. They’ve the drive, desire and willingness to do whatever the team needs to win.

These guys sacrifice their bodies for the team.

Draft guides come out yearly, you won’t find more than two pages on fullbacks in the various draft guides.

Most of those draft guides listed the top 13 players at the position; of those players only six were drafted. This is omitting Jacob Hester who played fullback in college but is now a back-up running back.

The top two fullbacks in the 2008 draft were Peyton Hillis of Arkansas and Owen Schmidt of West Virginia who was projected to go in the fourth or fifth round; he was selected by the Seattle with the 163rd pick of the fifth round.

Hillis was drafted by the Denver in the seventh round, pick 227.

The traditional blow-up fullback is a bit of a dinosaur in today’s game. What now rules for the fullback position is versatility, which diversifies and offense.

All fullbacks must be tough, that will never change, but when you find that rare player at the position that is athletic enough to run, catch and can block their value increases significantly.

The Oakland Raiders possess all types of fullbacks mentioned above. The player at the position who is a blow-up lead blocker in Oren O’Neal; and the athletic player who can do-it-all in Justin Griffith.
The team also possess’ the sleeper in Marcel Reese from Washington. He was signed as an undrafted free agent. He could serve as a third down nightmare for a middle linebacker, catching check-down passes, short throws in the flats.

His 4.6 speed looks pedestrian at wide receiver, the position he played in college, matched up against a MLB he has the hands and agility to become more than a check-down option and a mismatch giving the offense an advantage.

He is an impressive physical specimen with size, hands and speed that should allow him to eventually excel as an H-back or fullback. He has a body similar to Shannon Sharpe and could play a similar role.

Justin Griffith is the prototype fullback for today’s game. He can catch the ball and is a deadly cut blocker.

You have to have a tremendous toughness to play this no-glory position, which Griffith has, abundance of, and in a lot of ways a fullback is similar to an undersized guard. Taking on much bigger defenders and being involved in some of the games most violent collisions.

A fullback is either leading a running back into the hole blocking a linebacker or as a heat seeking missile on the special teams.

A fullback has to have explosive power. He is dealing with linebackers charging the line of scrimmage, ends screaming off the edges and tackles defeating blockers at the line of scrimmage.

He must be prepared on every down to stay low and roll his hips into blocks to clear running lanes. Griffith is an excellent receiver with great hands. He is frequently used for dump-off or check down options in the short passing game. He doesn’t have to run a full route tree to be effective.

He is excels at being agile enough flip his head around adjust to the ball and cleanly catching it away from his body like a receiver. This isn’t surprising when you figure he is being coached by Niners great Tom Rathman, who was one of the NFL’s best pass-catching fullbacks.

Griffith is a multidimensional fullback with a tremendous amount of versatility. His combination of hands, run skills and vision to lead runners makes him a versatile weapon for the silver and black offense.

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