(Field Yates, a former Chiefs scouting assistant under general manager Scott Pioli, continues a month-long series offering insight into how teams scout for players at each position.)
OVERVIEW: To some, the fullback is a dying breed in the NFL. The Patriots essentially were devoid of a traditional fullback in 2011, but picked up a pair this offseason. The days of teams carrying hammerhead lead blockers from the backfield are not entirely gone, but the position has developed into more of an offensive weapon role in recent years. A fullback can now be called upon to block, take occasional carries and be a receiving threat in particular situations.
DESIRED TRAITS: Two traits stand out above the rest when it comes to fullback play, and they are versatility and toughness. A fullback must be tough enough to engage oncoming linebackers as a blocker, square them up and drive them backward, while also versatile enough to handle the football as a runner/receiver. While a handful of strong lead blockers exist from the fullback spot, teams often also look for players strong enough and with enough technique who can leverage/wall-off defenders. New addition Spencer Larsen may not be a battering ram, but he can effectively lead the way for a running back by using his combination of strength, athleticism and technique to at least tie up defensive players.
The usual considerations for athleticism are in play for fullbacks (speed, quickness and agility), although this too depends on what role he is serving within your offense.
In the passing game, it needs to be determined if the fullback can serve as both a receiver and a blocker, or just one or the other. Those who can do both (former Patriot Larry Centers is a good example of this) can play on all three downs.
SPECIAL TEAMS ANGLE: Fullbacks essentially need to contribute on core special teams, and the traits inherent to the position (toughness in particular) lend themselves to such a role. Both Larsen and fellow newcomer Tony Fiammetta look primed to contribute in such a role if they remain on the roster.
PATRIOTS TAKE: The potential battle brewing between Larsen and Fiammetta will be fascinating to monitor, as each looks ready to make a case to stay on the active roster. By conventional roster construction, two fullbacks would seem unlikely to make the 53-man cut, so it may come down to which signee executes and assimilates more effectively in training camp. Early indications are that Larsen offers exceptional versatility, something he has displayed throughout his career. Fiammetta should not be considered an afterthought, however, and we’ll learn more about both when the pads come on. The Patriots have solid options at fullback entering 2012.