Falcons have a vacancy at fullback

Oklahoma fullback Dimitri Flowers catches a pass for a touchdown ahead of Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, right, during the second half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Oklahoma fullback Dimitri Flowers catches a pass for a touchdown ahead of Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, right, during the second half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game Monday, Jan. 1, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Credit: Jae C. Hong

Credit: Jae C. Hong

Atlanta hoping to find replacement for DiMarco/Coleman in draft

Second of five-part series on the Falcons’ draft needs. 

Today: Fullback

Last offseason, the Falcons thought they had a deal for the return of fullback Patrick DiMarco.

However, there was a delay in a signing after a family emergency due to a death. By the time DiMarco returned, he had a more lucrative offer from the Bills and the Pro Bowler was gone.

The Falcons ended up going with Derrick Coleman, who’d be out of football for a year and have elected not to re-sign him this year.

Currently, there is no fullback on the Falcons roster. The team will look to fill that void in the draft and in the undrafted rookie free-agent class.

The Falcons have the 26th overall pick in the draft, but are not expected to take a fullback on the first day. They could draft one as high as the fourth round.

In addition to the 26th overall pick, the Falcons hold picks 58 (second round), 90th (third round), 126th (fourth round), 200 (sixth) and 244 (seventh). Atlanta was awarded the final pick in the draft (No. 256) -- referred to as Mr. Irrelevant -- as a compensatory pick for losing five players in free agency in 2017.

The Falcons have struggled in short-yardage situations and in the red zone. The pass play on third-and-1 in Super Bowl LI will haunt the franchise for decades.

Things didn’t improve last season as the Falcons continued to get stuffed in short-yardage situations or threw passes, see the Bills game as a prime example. The Falcons even ran a Jet Sweep in a short-yardage situation against the Patriots that didn’t work.

Of course, the season ended for the offense in a five-wide receiver formation on the 2-yard line in the playoffs against the Eagles. By adding a fullback with force, the Falcons hope to present a power run option in some of those situations.

Some believe that fullback is a dying position in the NFL, which has shifted into a passing league. The old 250-pound bruising fullback is a dinosaur. DiMarco played at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, was much lighter.

The position still calls for the fullback to lead block, but he also must have pass-catching ability. There were only three true fullbacks invited to the NFL scouting combine ahead of the draft in Oklahoma’s Dimitri Flowers (5-11 and 225 pounds), Western Michigan’s Donnie Ernsberger (6-2, 241) and San Diego State’s Nick Bawden (6-1, 245).

The Falcons have scouted and interviewed N.C. State’s Jaylen Samuels, who’s 5-11 and 225, and is the top rated fullback in the draft by NFLDraftScout.com. They have also scouted Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage ( 6-1, 228), Oregon State’s Ryan Nall (6-2, 232) and Florida’s Mark Thompson (6-1, 237).

“We’ve talked a lot about what we are looking for in that fullback position,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “Last year, with Derrick Coleman we brought in a guy who had some athleticism about him as well.”

The parameters have changed.

“We’re not necessarily looking for a guy who is 260 pounds just ramming the hole,” Dimitroff said. “We understand the importance of having power within our run game because it is important. We have a zone scheme. We have a lot of athletic guys on our offensive line, but we do need someone who’s going to block it up and sustain and not necessarily knock people over.”

The new fullback will be counted on to improve the short-yardage attack and help occasionally out of the backfield.

“Yes, when you count the third-and-1’s, the fourth-and-1’s some of the time, even in the low red zone in some areas,” Quinn said. “We are going to run it. They know we are going to run it and we are going to do it anyway. Those kind of moments are important. Those are ‘got to have’ plays.”

That’s one of the new offensive wrinkles the Falcons plan to add to the offensive attack.

“As we go through it, some of it is scheme, and we’ll for sure look into that and to add to the mix on some guys who would almost have a unique role just for that,” Quinn said. “We are looking into every option for that.”

While the new fullback is not the team’s highest priority, it’s a glaring need. Quinn has carved out a role for that player based on the lessons he learned from Bill Walsh.

“That goes all the way back to Bill Walsh kind of telling me that story ‘what role would this player have on your team?’ ” Quinn said. “He might be a short-yardage fullback. From years ago, 17 or 18 years ago, I remember that message from Bill about the uniqueness a player can have and featuring him in that role.”

DiMarco and Coleman both played on special teams. Coleman led the Falcons in special teams tackles with 15 last season.

“That’s part of our job as coaches to find those guys and put them in the best spot,” Quinn said. “You know us and we like versatility. If a guy can do more than one job, that’s a really important quality to have for the team.”

Samuels had a dynamic career for the Wolfpack. Last season, he rushed 76 times for 404 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 76 passes for 597 yards and four touchdowns.

Samuels caught  a school-record 202 passes for 1,855 yards and 19 touchdowns over his career. He’s projected to be selected in the third or fourth round of the draft.

“I was recruited by the tight end coach, and they recruited me as an H-back/tight end guy,” Samuels said. “My role just expanded the four years I was there.”

Samuels played on all four special teams in college.

“Wherever I can help contribute that’s where I will fit,” Samuels said.

Flowers, a four-year starter for the Sooners, interviewed with the Falcons at the Senior Bowl.

“Flowers isn’t a traditional smash-mouth lead fullback, but his versatility can be a weapon for a team looking for a do-everything H-back,” according to Dane Brugler’s 2018 NFL draft guide.

Flowers is projected to be drafted in the fifth or sixth rounds.

The last time the Falcons drafted a fullback things didn’t work out so well. In 2012, the Falcons picked Bradie Ewing out of Wisconsin. He had a fine college career, but was often injured in the NFL.

FULLBACK PROSPECTS

A quick look at the fullbacks:

List of first-day (first round) picks: None.

Second day (second-third rounds):  None.

Third day (fourth-seventh rounds): Samuels, Flowers, Bawden, Ballage, Dylan Cantrell (Texas Tech) and Chris Warren (Texas).

College free agents: Ernsberger, Nall, Thompson, Khalid Hill (Michigan) and Henry Poggi (Michigan).

Georgia: Chrisitan Payne.

SEC: J.D. Moore (LSU), Dallas Rivers (Vanderbilt).

ACC: None.

THE SERIES

Part 1: Defensive tackles  -- Falcons have a gaping hole at defensive tackle 

Part 2:  Fullbacks -- Falcons have a vacancy at fullback, Today

Part 3: Wide receivers, Monday

Part 4: Linebackers, Tuesday

Part 5: Offensive line, Wednesday

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