PFN Roundtable: Breaking down Miami Dolphins HC Mike McDaniel’s use of fullbacks

In this week's PFN Roundtable, our analysts discuss how Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel could implement the fullback position in Year 1.

While some NFL offensive coordinators have eliminated the fullback position from their playbooks, first-year Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel isn’t a member of that group. As a notable branch within the Shanahan coaching tree, McDaniel is familiar with the value a fullback can bring to an offense, especially after coaching perennial Pro Bowl player Kyle Juszczyk in San Francisco for the past five years.

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How the fullback can impact both phases of the Dolphins’ offense

Now in charge of the offense in South Florida, McDaniel couldn’t wait to bring a fullback to Miami. In fact, the head coach recently admitted it was at the top of his personnel to-do list.

“I’ve been fortunate enough, since 2005, to be in the same structure of offense, and this will be my seventh team,” McDaniel said. “From the starting point of Day 1 installation, I’ve had a fullback involved.”

The Dolphins are one of a handful of teams with multiple fullbacks on their roster heading into training camp. Former Las Vegas Raiders fullback Alec Ingold is the favorite for the starting job, while John Lovett will push for a job on Miami’s roster or elsewhere.

The fullback job should be viewed as a coveted post under McDaniel, who helped turn Juszcyzk into a transcendent talent at the afterthought position, which once seemed on the verge of extinction.

Mike McDaniel will look to create mismatches with his fullbacks

With the NFL’s increased focus on the passing game, the fullback position has adapted in order to survive. Instead of searching for lumbering blockers with massive shoulder pads, teams who use fullbacks are now trying to find a mismatch machine.

Juszczyk was that mismatch-maker in San Francisco, and Ingold recently told Pro Football Network that he joined the Dolphins partially because of McDaniel’s background with Juszczyk.

Ingold is an athlete who can run, catch, and block, and that will help McDaniel mix and match personnel with a fullback on the field. The Dolphins can use 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE, 2 WRs) with regularity. That formation could create headaches for opposing defensive coordinators, who need to determine the role of the fullback on a given play. Is Ingold in the game to block? Is he a passing option? Could he run the ball himself?

The fullback’s presence could also impact the flow of offensive substitutions. For instance, if Ingold is in the game, that could mean that Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill are the only wideouts on the field. Or, Ingold could force a tight end, such as franchise-tagged playmaker Mike Gesicki, temporarily out of the lineup.

McDaniel wants fluidity in his personnel groupings so that defensive coordinators have to do mental gymnastics to put in the right defenders to shut down his attack. This approach by McDaniel could lead to bigger holes in the running game and more room for wideouts to operate in space. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa could benefit from Ingold, not only from his blocking but also as an outlet weapon. – Mike Kaye, PFN Lead NFL Reporter

How Miami’s use of a fullback could impact fantasy football

The Dolphins’ current stack of playmakers is already difficult to project so adding a fullback who would be utilized like Juszczyk to the mix further muddies the water. In 2021, Juszczyk was targeted 38 times and ran the ball eight times. The question is whether McDaniel would use Ingold similarly or if that usage was specific to Juszczyk.

Miami’s fantasy football upside with Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Mike Gesicki, and a three-headed backfield will suffer a little even losing 30 targets. There are so many new factors within the offense that it’s hard to be confident in the unit’s potential volume or how it will function. McDaniel using a valuable fullback further complicates things.

The best case is Miami utilizes Gesicki to his full athletic potential as a move tight end and big slot target. This would get him easy completions in space as a fullback in certain situations as well. We certainly don’t want targets being filtered to Ingold, though.

I wouldn’t knock any of Miami’s top playmakers lower with the inclusion of a fullback by a significant amount. It’s fair to expect both Hill and Waddle to get the lion’s share of targets, while it’s possible Gesicki and running back Chase Edmonds lose two to three combined targets each game. – Tommy Garrett, PFN Senior Fantasy Analyst

How the Dolphins’ use of a fullback could impact betting odds

There’s no reason to bury the lede here. The Dolphins’ use of a fullback is not going to impact their betting odds at all. There are only a handful of fullbacks that play any sort of meaningful snaps in the NFL. On the 49ers, I wouldn’t say McDaniel utilized the fullback position; he specifically utilized Juszczyk.

Miami has Ingold as their presumptive starting fullback. He’s been one of the more active fullbacks over the past couple of years, but that still amounted to just a 12% snap share in 2021. It’s possible he’s more involved on the Dolphins, but Ingold’s not about to move the odds.

I have full confidence in McDaniel to deploy his players in a manner that maximizes their potential. With that said, Ingold’s usage and role on the team is not going to play a factor in any bets you make (or don’t make) on Dolphins games. – Jason Katz, PFN Fantasy and Betting Analyst

How the Dolphins’ use of a fullback could impact their 2023 NFL Draft plans

Look, I love fullbacks as much as the next guy. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing an anger-filled 6’0”, 240-pound man absolutely slab a linebacker in open space as a lead blocker, only to thirst for more contact thereafter. But if we’re talking about how the Dolphins’ use of a fullback could impact their 2023 NFL Draft plans, we can’t sugarcoat it. Any impact will be minor.

First and foremost, Miami already has an experienced fullback in Ingold, who’s still young and trending up. They signed him to a two-year contract worth over $6 million this past offseason. So odds are, Miami will roll with Ingold at FB for the foreseeable future, barring a notable regression in 2022.

Chances are Ingold is due for an increased role with McDaniel. He likely won’t be Juszczyk — few are. But in McDaniel’s scheme, there’s a good chance Ingold will have more responsibility. There will be increased pressure that comes with that responsibility. And if Ingold doesn’t meet expectations, the Dolphins have the capital to bring in competition in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Any fullback selection will likely be on Day 3, where the Dolphins are currently projected to have three total picks in Rounds 5-7. As of now, there’s no surefire standout in the 2023 NFL Draft FB class. But two names to watch are NDSU’s Hunter Luepke and Iowa’s Monte Pottebaum. Luepke is a tough, gritty, and versatile utility player for the Bison, while Pottebaum is a hard-nosed blocker who brings additional value as a short-yardage back. – Ian Cummings, PFN NFL Draft Analyst

Sign up for PFN Pass and check out ‘The Rise of the Fullback’

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Once signed up, be sure to check out “The Rise of the Fullback” by PFN Lead NFL Report Mike Kaye, on why teams are making the once-forgotten position relevant again.

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