There has been a lot of talk since the hiring of Jay Gruden that the Redskins will be more of a passing team and use 3 and 4 WR sets more under their new head coach. The idea is that Jay Gruden didn’t use a fullback in Cincinnati and that led to the use of more wide receivers. That isn’t fully true as Gruden relied more on two tight end sets, then people give him credit for, but what is true is the lack of a fullback in Gruden’s offense. The Bengals have not used a fullback much during Gruden’s three years, and this past season they didn’t even have a fullback on the roster. Instead they used TE Orson Charles and DT Domata Peko when they needed a lead blocker. What does that mean for incumbent fullback Darrel Young?
Young is probably a top 5 FB in the league, and while the position isn’t considered one of major importance, it can still offer some good value. Teams that use fullbacks and have a good player at the position can get a lot of cheap value to their team. Most top fullbacks (who aren’t on rookie deals) make between $1-2 million, which is pretty good for a team since they play between 35-45% of the offensive snaps and are generally positive special teams contributors. A team can get some nice value from a player even if they aren’t touching the ball and picking up yards. It’s overlooked but the ability to lead block or serve as a personal protector for a quarterback can have a big impact on a team. Another thing to consider is that fullbacks typically are needed most in high leverage situations. Even if you are a team that doesn’t feature a fullback much, you need that player on short yardage and goalline situations. Teams that don’t have that fullback on the roster need to convert someone else for the position, just to be able to run that power offense. Sure it might not be a fulltime player, but fullback playing that much and in so many important situations can have just as much value to a team as a 3rd WR or 2nd TE even if they end up playing more snaps.
While Young is more than just a lead blocking fullback, his impact as a blocker became very clear this past year. Unfortunately for the Redskins, that impact became the most clear when he wasn’t in the line-up. After suffering an injury week 10 versus the Eagles, Young missed the next three games, during which time Alfred Morris simply hit a wall. During those three games against the 49ers, Giants and Chiefs, Morris had rushing totals of 52, 26, and 31 while positing yard per carry averages of 3.71, 2.36, and 2.58 respectively. To gain 1,000 yards in a season a back needs to average 62.5 yards per game, prior to this stretch of games Morris had only been below that 62.5 yard average 3 times in the previous 27 games (including the playoff game). Yet without Young, Morris couldn’t top 52, and posted the two worst games of his career. Now Young was hardly the only reason why Morris and the ground game struggled. The 49ers and Giants were both top 10 defenses in yards allowed per carry, and the Redskins were in complete dysfunction mode. They weren’t likely to win those games or be effective on the ground regardless, but with Young playing Morris likely wouldn’t have been such a non-factor.
Young’s value goes beyond that of his blocking as he’s proven himself to be a viable runner and receiver out of the backfield. Young last year had just 12 carries and averaged only 3.4 yards per carry, but that number is misleading. Young scored three short yardage rushing TD’s and had another seven of his runs result in first downs. That means 10 out of his 12 carries resulted in a very positive play for the Redskins. So while his numbers don’t wow you, the impact was high. Young has done a nice job these last three years as a runner and has proven himself as an effective short yardage option. Young has also proved himself as a solid receiver option out of the backfield as well.
If anything Young has been underused both in snaps and as an offensive weapon, but how will he fit in with Jay Gruden who has favored more 3 wide receiver and 2 TE sets? It’s a fair question what will happen with Young’s usage this year and one that could have a big impact depending on what they do. If Gruden tries to ignore the fullback position as much as he did in Cincinnati, it could negatively impact the offense, and hinder the Redskins best weapon Alfred Morris. Gruden needs to implement his offense, but he can’t afford to ignore what Darrel Young brings to the table.