With the NFL transitioning into air raid style offenses, and the game trending toward multiple receiver sets, the fullback position is a dying breed. It seems the days of snot-rattling fullbacks the likes of Tom Rathman, Lorenzo Neal, and Mike Alstott are long gone.
Or are they?
Fullback Andy Janovich is heading into his fourth season with the Broncos, after being voted a team captain in 2018. Selected in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft (Nebraska), Janovich quickly gained the respect of his teammates for his work ethic and fearlessness.
While only recording a total of three touchdowns in his NFL career, his expertise lies in mauling linebackers and defensive linemen more than twice his size. The underwhelming utilization of Janovich is the direct result of inconsistent coaching and scheme.
An unsung hero, his blocking has led to game changing plays and scoring. Impact blocking paired with consistent production on special teams, has made Janovich a leader in the locker room.
Yesterday, Janovich spoke to the media at Dove Valley following voluntary work outs, and was very excited about the upcoming season, specifically the West Coast offense that will be installed.
“I was excited. They typically use the fullbacks a lot more,” he said. “The 49ers last year used their fullback more than anybody. Can’t be anything but excited.”
Last season, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense utilized the fullback position more than any other team in the NFL. Coming from the Shanahan coaching tree, first-time NFL offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello is expected to incorporate a similar offense in Denver.
Janovich offers a bruising running style out of the backfield, as well as potential check down passing routes. Whether Janovich will be as helpful to the Broncos’ offense as 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk was last season remains to be seen.
“I guess we’ll have to find out. I think I’m a better blocker at the end of the day,” Jano said. “But I think he’s a great route runner and all of that stuff. We’ll see.”
Because the NFL is a copy cat league, perhaps the fullback position will make a small resurgence. In last year’s Super Bowl, the New England Patriots fullback James Devlin was the blue collar, hero of the game. Devlin was able to contest Pro Bowl, Los Angeles Rams Defensive Linemen Aaron Donald, and Ndamukong Suh at the line of scrimmage. This resulted in paralysis for the Rams defense, and another championship for the Patriots.
With what is perceived to be an improved offensive line under Coach Mike Munchak, Janovich can assist with consistency, and nastiness for a group that needs both. Consider him a 6th offensive lineman that has the leadership and toughness to aid the most problematic position group in years for the Broncos.
Yesterday, the most important theme Janovich expressed was the new culture under head coach Vic Fangio. And Janovich has definitely noticed a change.
“Yeah, absolutely. Last year we had guys coming in two seconds before [meetings], and they’re not even seated by the time of the meeting, but they’re there. Now, it’s five minutes early and now we start five minutes early,” he noted. “It’s just extra time to sharpen every tool you have in the classroom. You spend more time there than you do on the field and in practice and everything. It’s more of a mental game a lot of time, so just to have extra time.”
While this may be the era of offensive ingenuity in the NFL, the Denver Broncos have an opportunity to buck the trend through simplicity and toughness. Janovich’s leadership and toughness will be critical for the offense, special teams, and locker room this season.
As for Janovich’s favorite fullback?
“Cory Schlesinger. That guy is just a hard-head, mean son of a gun,” he said. “I loved watching that guy.”
It must be a Nebraska Cornhusker thing.