When fullback Kyle Juszczyk signed a five-year, $27 million deal with the 49ers over the weekend, eyes popped at the record-setting contract he commanded. At 30-years-old playing a position many NFL teams do not value, Juszczyk not only doubled the next highest-paid player at his position, he also placed himself among the top 15 highest-paid tight ends in the NFL based on average value. That's not an area you've seen fullbacks in before, but it could be moving forward.
Juszczyk, whose nickname is Juice because that's how you pronounce the first half of his name, is creating a roadmap for other fullbacks to follow on how to become a fan favorite, create a sellable brand, get paid and, most importantly, become an integral part of your team's offense playing a position some felt would go extinct a few years ago. Hell, there are only 20 fullbacks on active rosters now so I'm sure many still believe it's a fading position. But after watching how Juszczyk is utilized by the 49ers and how he's now being paid by them, more top athletes could stick with the fullback position and make a bigger impact on the NFL moving forward.
Beyond the typical battering ram that most fullbacks are utilized as, Juszczyk is also featured heavily in the 49ers' passing offense. He's athletic enough to separate from linebackers and safeties in coverage and has good enough hands to make tough catches in tight spaces. The 49ers are also smart in how they deploy him on routes, setting things up as if he's going to block before Juszczyk turns upfield on a go route certain plays. Here are two good examples of that:
The NFL has always been a copycat cat league and this situation is no different. Innovative NFL coaches like Niners coach Kyle Shanahan are proving fullbacks can be used to create mismatches and confusion amongst the defense on passing and running plays. He's not the only one.
Saints coach Sean Payton, another offensive guru, had Taysom Hill line up at the fullback position many times over the last few years and used Hill's versatility to create mismatches. Hill ran, blocked and caught from that position, but he also contributed as a diversion in some situations like below.
This is all to say, while the old hole-plowing fullback position may be dying, a new one is being born. The modern fullback blocks, but they also get opportunities to make big plays in big spots. They can catch touchdowns or run for a critical first down and have the entire stadium screaming "JUUUUUUUUICEEEEE" if they're utilized correctly. Juszczyk also just proved they can be handsomely compensated for doing that job.
It's been a long time since any kid walked onto a football field and said, "I want to play fullback." While that likely won't be the first position choice they jump at when starting out now, it's clear fullbacks have a role in the NFL and that role will expand as more creative offensive minds find ways to utilize them to their fullest potential. If you're a middling tight end in the NFL today who can block and catch, Juszczyk's role and contract have to at least make you wonder what you could do in a similar situation.
Remember, the tight end position wasn't as highly valued in the NFL a few decades ago; it was more of a luxury than anything. Now it's one of the most critical positions on every offense, with tight ends being drafted high in the first round and the top-tier veterans getting paid handsomely in free agency. While fullback won't get to that level tomorrow or probably not even in the next few years, there's a clear path for it to progress past the archaic concept it once occupied. If that does happen, remember this being a crucial turning point.