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Rating the fullbacks

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The fullback position has been overlooked by many, including a handful of NFL teams (Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts) who have preferred using more of a two-tight end set over the traditional fullback in the backfield.

This trend has led to fullbacks dropping in the draft, as witnessed by the fact that the highest-chosen prospect at this position the past two years has not come until pick No. 158 overall in the fifth round (Justin Green in 2005) and pick No. 163 in the fifth round (David Kirtman in 2006).

A handful of prospects are worthy of mid-to-late round consideration once again, but the majority of them have more ball skills than pure lead blocking ability; there are even a few conversions from tight end to fullback in the mix.

FULLBACK SLEEPERS
Corey White, UAB
Brad Lau, Boise State
Michael McFadden, Grand Valley State

TOP FULLBACKS

1. Le'Ron McClain, Alabama. The Crimson Tide's team captain is as hard-nosed as they come. While he lacks ideal athleticism or speed, he is a terrific lead blocker. He's more of a throwback – a role player that is ideal if you are running a power run game. He also has showed better-than-advertised hands as a receiver out of the backfield.

McClain runs too upright and stiff to become much of a short-yardage back, although he lost yardage just once in 37 career carries. He's more of a thumper when he stays low and fires out, but he can get re-directed when trying to pick up the blitz and at times fails to recognize or pick up defenders when they run stunts, which may have something to do with his use of contacts to correct his vision. He would work best if he shed some weight to the 250-pound range.

His work ethic and production increased during his senior campaign, which is a good sign, and he performed very well at the Senior Bowl. He's more of a 4.9 range guy in the 40, so his workouts won't excite. At times, he has been thought of as a high-reps guy that takes a little longer to produce ideal results from the classroom to the field. Overall, he is the best lead blocker in this group but is unlikely to come off the board before the fourth or fifth round.

2. Gijon Robinson, Missouri Western. Talented small school athlete that is converting from tight end to fullback/H-back due in part to his size limitations. He stands just over 6-foot and weighs 268 pounds, but he shows very good strength, power and leverage as a blocker and ideal hands as a receiver. He's more athletic than his size or 40 times would indicate.

Robinson is more effective coming out of the backfield or motioned to an H-back position as he lacks the height to become a true threat from the normal tight end position. He runs smooth routes, catches the ball with his hands and then shows both balance and power as a runner after the catch.

He lined up in the backfield for the first time at the Texas vs. the Nation game and showed very good awareness and lead blocking skills during the practice week. He follows through on his blocks, does a good job of sustaining his initial punch and fielded most blitzes with ease. His versatility is sure to catch the eye of several teams, especially those who were fans of Garrett Mills a year ago.

3. Jason Snelling, Virginia. He's a two-way threat who played at a high level as both a running back and fullback in the ACC. His development from lead blocker and special teams ace to feature back did not come overnight, but the all-out-hustle and determination never went unnoticed.

He took the reins to his new job seriously and at times acted as his own lead blocker. Running with a great forward lean, he surprised some opponents with eye-opening straight-line speed. Snelling carries his pads very well and also showed good patience as a runner. He works to stay low and fire through the hole, especially in short-yardage situations.

He's carried upwards of 235 pounds in the past but looks great in his new slimmed-down frame. His versatility can be used in a variety of ways as a backup running back, fullback in a West Coast style attack or even as a one-back.

His prowess on special teams will excite playoff-caliber teams looking to add a rookie that can contribute from Day 1. He is the perfect complementary type of player for teams like Pittsburgh, Seattle or Miami. If he runs in the mid-to-late 4.5s rather than the expected 4.6 range, it could bolster his final draft grade towards the first day.

4. Roshon Vercher, Fresno State. Possesses the perfect build for becoming a feared lead blocker in the NFL. He brings power, grit and determination to both the playing field and locker room. His absence due to injuries the past two years hurt the Bulldogs: They were winless in games he missed due to a high ankle sprain.

Vercher takes the proper angles on all his blocks and then sustains or finishes off his opponent the majority of the time. He's a better athlete than advertised – he scored a few short, goal-line touchdowns when offered the chance to carry the ball – and his blocking led the way for three different running backs to gain over 1,000 yards in each of the four seasons he played. He loves the contact and work ethic that comes with this position, having spent the past few offseasons working out and breaking down game film with All-Pro fullback Lorenzo Neal.

His ranking is based on his ability to contribute at the next level. He may go overlooked in the draft, but he undoubtedly has the ability to make someone's roster and develop into a starting-caliber fullback in the NFL.

5. Derek Schouman, Boise State. This former tight end was invited to the combine to show teams he can make the transition to fullback/H-back. He's unconventional in many ways. He's an above-average athlete with 4.6 speed and impressive hands as a receiver. Despite lacking ideal size to play up on the line of scrimmage, he is a firm, willing blocker with better strength than you initially expect from a player that's 6-2 and 235 pounds.

Schouman has a great attitude and plays with that same intensity on the field. He has been working hard since the Broncos' Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma to improve his skills, specifically running routes from the backfield and getting used to turning his head around quicker to be an outlet receiver. He has the mentality to make the conversion to the backfield. He worked through a few issues with his hamstring, but overall, he is a solid mid-to-late round choice for a team that employs a West Coast style offense.