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Much ado about fullback

McDaniels’ Raiders offense is going to deploy one, but who?

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders
Alec Ingold was lost to a knee injury suffered in a November 14 clash with the Kansas City Chiefs. As a blocker, pass catcher and special teamer, Ingold offered the Las Vegas Raiders versatility. But he’s also a restricted free agent this offseason.
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

While Mark Davis embarked on his search to land a new head coach for his Las Vegas Raiders and it was unclear which candidates were the favorite, I noted that if Jim Harbaugh were picked to captain the Silver & Black ship, Alec Ingold would have a roster spot for life.

Harbs’ Power I formation beckons for a hard-nosed lead blocker at fullback and Ingold fit that bill to a T and then some. Of course, Harbaugh didn’t head to the desert and Davis instead landed Josh McDaniels to guide his Raiders from here on in.

Yet, the notion of fullback still holds tremendous weight because McDaniels deploys the fullback at a consistent rate when he was the New England Patriots offensive coordinator. That’s not likely to change now he’s in charge of the Raiders offense. McDaniels is accustomed to running multiple-back backfields and most recently deployed fullback-heavy sets. And arguably the Raiders' best personnel grouping is the 21 personnel (two running backs and one tight end and a grouping something McDaniels is well-suited at).

Being equal parts run blocker, pass protector and pass catcher for a fullback is an integral part of the offense McDaniels is installing in the desert. Especially if play-action is going to be used more often. Despite being in toward the tail end of the league rankings in using play-action plays, the Raiders offense was near the top in terms of success rate when it was used.

Thus, perhaps Ingold will have a Raiders roster spot for life... or will he?

Las Vegas Raiders v Indianapolis Colts
Sutton Smith was signed to replace the injured Alec Ingold. The fullback also inked a short-term extension in-season this past year.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The popular notion is Ingold should be back despite suffering a season-ending knee injury this past November. No. 45 is a versatile player who can not only be a punishing and reliable lead blocker, but also a deceptively good pass catcher out of the backfield and quality special teamer. Not to mention he was voted as team captain this past year.

The reason for any hesitancy is Ingold is not under contract and heads into the offseason as a restricted free agent.

(What’s a restricted free agent (RFA)? It’s a player with three accrued seasons and an expired contract. RFAs are free to negotiate with any team, but their original squad can offer them one of various tenders that come with the right to first refusal and/or draft compensation. Tenders are: first-round tender; second-round tender; original-round tender; right-of-first-refusal tender. If a tender is withdrawn by a team, the RFA becomes an unrestricted free agent.)

Currently, the only fullback under contract is Sutton Smith — inked to replace Ingold for the rest of the 2021 campaign. Smith then signed an extension in-season and is the only FB, as of now. Perhaps as an insurance policy in case Ingold isn’t ready when camp rolls around?

Smith, a converted defensive end/linebacker, played in eight games as a Raider and spent most of his time on the 2021 roster as a special teamer. His snaps at fullback on Vegas’ offense numbered 44 compared to the 77 he saw on special teams. Smith’s prowess as a run-blocker and occasional pass-catcher out of the backfield have yet to be seen, however.

It’s quite plausible new Raiders personnel man — general manager Dave Ziegler — determines Ingold is an integral piece to McDaniels’ offense and places a tender on the fullback and/or engaging in contract talks while having Smith as the insurance policy as Ingold mends from the knee injury.

It’s also a possibility that Ziegler looks at another free agent fullback altogether, namely, Jakob Johnson.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills
For three seasons, Jakob Johnson was the fullback Josh McDaniels deployed in his New England Patriots offense. Johnson is coincidentally a restricted free agent this offseason.
Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Like Ingold, Johnson is also of the restricted free agent variety. Since both fullbacks were undrafted types, an original-round tender means neither Vegas or New England get any draft compensation if they were to sign with new teams. The similarities don’t end there. Johnson is both a fine road-grading lead blocker and is a solid special teamer while offering deceptive athleticism. Jakobs is taller and heavier at 6-foot-3, 255 pounds but is older (27) than the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Ingold (25). To round out the height-weight tally, Smith stands 6-foot and 232 pounds is 25, too.

It’s difficult to envision Ziegler and McDaniels not re-upping Ingold even if he’s not fully mended from the knee injury. And having Smith remain is sound for redundancy if needed. But there’s no ifs ands or buts about it, fullback will continue to not only be used but thrive in Las Vegas.