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Ravens Open To Keeping Two Fullbacks

Posted Apr 29, 2013

Drafting Kyle Juszczyk does not mean that the Ravens will move on from Pro Bowler Vonta Leach.

The speculation started soon after the Ravens’ fourth-round draft pick was announced.

Baltimore selected Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk with pick No. 130, adding to questions in the media about whether the Juszczyk’s arrival could mean the end of Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach’s time in Baltimore.

After the draft, General Manger Ozzie Newsome didn’t specifically address whether drafting Juszczyk puts Leach’s job in jeopardy, but did say the Ravens would be open to keeping both.

“Could there be a place for both of them? Yes, there could be,” Newsome said. “Because as John and I try to put our 53-man squad together, we want to keep the best 53 players.”

Traditional fullbacks are a dying breed in the NFL, as the league has evolved into a pass-heavy league without as much use for two-back sets. Some teams don’t even carry a true fullback on the roster, and almost no teams have two.

But the Ravens offense relies on the running game, and Leach is considered the best blocking fullback in the NFL. He’s made the Pro Bowl both of his seasons in Baltimore, and running back Ray Rice has said on numerous occasions that Leach is “the best thing to ever happen to me.”

The challenge is that Leach’s salary is reportedly slated to count $4.33 million against this year’s cap, so the Ravens could try to clear cap space and just keep Juszczyk at a much cheaper cost.

Juszczyk is a much different player.

His game is predicated on versatility, and in college he played a combination of fullback, halfback and tight end. He has great hands and can be used as a weapon in the passing game, as he finished his college career with 125 catches for 1,576 yards and 22 touchdowns.

The Ravens see Juszczyk projecting as a fullback in the NFL, but he has the athleticism to line up all over the field.   

“He is a very versatile player,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “He is a guy that can play as a fullback in a two-back offense. He is a guy who can play as a U-back or an H-back, an underneath back in the motion, second tight end, two-tight end stuff. I think you can put him on the line – it won’t be his thing – but if you had to, you could put him on the line as a tight end. And, he splits out and plays as a wide receiver a bunch for Harvard.”

Leach is also a threat in the passing game, as last year he caught 21 passes for 143 yards.

The Ravens didn’t draft another tight end to go along with Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, and they typically carry three tight ends on the 53-man roster. Juszczyk’s versatility could allow the Ravens to keep him as the No. 3 tight end and then also retain Leach as the top fullback.

Before making any decisions about Leach’s future, the Ravens want to get Juszczyk to Baltimore to see exactly what he can do. The rookies report to Baltimore on Thursday for rookie camp.

“We’re going to have 90 football players, and we don’t have to make any decisions,” Newsome said. “We want to make decisions based on how guys perform out on the football field."

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