The fullback is an endangered species in today’s NFL, but could Kyle Jusczcyk actually be a quietly fantastic add for the New York Jets?
The primary reason that Kyle Juszczyk (pronounced “use-check”) has been linked to the New York Jets is, of course, his connection to the coaching staff. He joined the San Francisco 49ers in 2017, the same year that Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur moved into the Bay Area, sharing each of the past four seasons with the Jets’ new head coach and offensive coordinator.
There are not many teams left in the NFL that still utilize a fullback regularly, but among the ones that do, none made use of the position more than LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers over the past four years. Juszczyk’s total of 1,918 offensive snaps from 2017-20 led all fullbacks over that span.
Based on how big of a component Juszczyk was for the Niners, if LaFleur runs an offense in New York that is highly reminiscent of the attack run by Shanahan in San Francisco over the past few years, a quality fullback will likely be needed. It goes without saying that Juszczyk fits the bill, considering he played in the LaFleur/Shanahan offense over the past four years in addition to quite simply being the most talented and heavily-utilized fullback in the league.
Sure, you expect a fullback to be good at blocking in relation to most other players on the field outside of the offensive linemen, but not every fullback is a good blocker in relation to other fullbacks. It’s not possible. There has to be a spectrum. Among all fullbacks, some are great blockers, some are average, and some are bad.
Juszczyk is a great blocking fullback. Over the course of his career (regular season and playoffs), Juszczyk has been trusted to take on a massive workload of 1,618 run blocking snaps, earning a composite Pro Football Focus run blocking grade of 72.1 on those plays. That’s a very good mark – the average among fullbacks over the past four seasons is 62.8.
As a member of the 49ers from 2017-20, Juszczyk posted a 71.1 run blocking grade (regular season) that trailed only Patrick Ricard (79.0) among fullbacks. Juszczyk’s 988 run blocking snaps for the 49ers from 2017-20 was 312 more than the second-ranked fullback (C.J. Ham).
Juszczyk can also get it done as a pass protector. He has a career composite pass blocking grade of 75.6. The average among fullbacks over the past four seasons is 68.5.
Juszczyk has proven to be a solid weapon as a pass-catcher. In each of the past seven seasons, Juszczyk was targeted at least 24 times and caught at least 19 passes for at least 180 yards.
In 2020, Juszczyk tied for second on the 49ers with four receiving touchdowns. No other fullback in the league had more than two. Juszczyk’s 202 receiving yards was nearly double C.J. Ham‘s second-ranked total of 110.
Juszczyk’s per-target efficiency as a receiver really took off over the past two seasons. From 2019-20, Juszczyk caught 39 of 53 targets (73.6%) for 441 yards, five touchdowns, and 16 first downs. Those totals give him 8.3 yards per target and a 39.6% conversion rate, two marks that closely rival the league-average wide receiver (2020 league averages at WR: 8.2 yds/target, 41.0% conversions). All fullbacks besides Juszczyk in the 2020 season combined to average 5.3 yards per target with a 35.5% conversion rate.
Collecting his 441 receiving yards across 271 routes run, Juszczyk’s average of 1.63 yards per route run from 2019-20 actually beats the 2020 positional average for wide receivers, which was 1.57. He more than doubled the average for non-Juszczyk fullbacks in 2020, which was 0.76.
The man essentially produces in the passing game on a per-play basis like your average wide receiver.
Juszczyk played all 16 games in 2020, his sixth complete 16-game season out of eight years in the league. He has played 122 out of a possible 128 career regular season games (95.3%).
It’s certainly not a huge concern given everything else he offers, but Juszczyk has seldom been used as a rusher throughout his career, carrying the ball only 42 times in 122 games (0.3 attempts per game). In short-yardage situations, Juszczyk has been decent. He has converted on 16 of 22 career carries with one-or-fewer yards to go, a 72.7% rate. The league average conversion rate in that situation over the course of Juszczyk’s career (2015-20) is 70.9%.
On the positive side, Juszczyk did have a career-best year as a rusher this past season. In 2020, he set career-highs in rush attempts (17), rushing yards (64), rushing touchdowns (2), and rushing first downs (10). He was great in short-yardage situations, going 11 for 13 with one-or-fewer yards to go (84.6%).
Juszczyk’s ability to contribute in the passing game has allowed him to play far more snaps than you typically see out of a fullback. He has averaged 30.3 offensive snaps per game over the past seven seasons, playing about 45% of the offensive snaps in his average game over that span.
Decline in 2020 blocking grades
At PFF, Juszczyk’s blocking grades were not all that good in 2020. His run blocking grade of 63.2 was the second-worst of his career and worst since 2015, ranking seventh out of 13 fullbacks in 2020. He allowed three pressures as a pass protector over only 27 snaps in protection, earning a pass blocking grade of 50.7 that was also the second-worst of his career.
Juszczyk will turn 30 in April. With eight seasons’ worth of miles on his tires at a position that involves highly physical head-on contact on a very frequent basis, teams need to think about the possibility of an upcoming decline for Juszczyk, especially considering his (apparent) dip as a blocker in 2020.
Juszczyk has the complete package as a blocker. He’s agile, takes high-quality angles, and finishes with ruthless tenacity. The 49ers asked him to take on almost every type of assignment imaginable – being the lead blocker on an inside run, kicking out to the front-side edge, taking out the back-side edge on a split zone, going in motion pre-snap and leading a jet sweep – you name it, Juszczyk probably did it at some point.
On this play against the Patriots from last October, Juszczyk is one of two backs beside Jimmy Garoppolo in the shotgun, standing about one yard in front of Garoppolo to his right. Brandon Aiyuk comes across the formation from left-to-right and takes a pop pass from Garoppolo, leaving Juszczyk as the lead blocker, tasked with taking on the front-side edge defender. Juszczyk sprints out, squares up his target, angles towards the sideline, and pancakes the defender, paving the way for a huge (and easy) Aiyuk gain. Aiyuk gets the glory of the yardage credit, but Juszczyk is the real MVP of this play.
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