Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan loves players who can perform in multiple roles. It’s one reason why he and general manager John Lynch recently drafted wide receiver Jalen Hurd, because he has the skill set to play wide receiver, tight end or running back.
It’s also why he loves fullback Kyle Juszcyk.
In a league where fullback mostly has disappeared from offensive schemes, Jusczcyk still has a job in Shanahan’s offense. And, as the 49ers ramp up their offseason program in preparation for the 2019 season, fullback will be a key role again for a scheme that has added running backs and wide receivers to its skill-position stable.
This week, Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com projected the starters for every NFC West team, and San Francisco stands out as the only one with a fullback.
Wrote Rosenthal: “Give Shanahan credit for zigging while the rest of the league zags. Kyle Juszczyk is the only fullback to make a team’s projected-starters list in this entire exercise. He’s been one of the 49ers’ better offensive players the last two seasons.”
Juszczyk, 28, has played six seasons in the NFL and has been selected for the Pro Bowl the past three seasons (the first with Baltimore in 2016 before he signed with the 49ers).
Though he rarely carries the ball out of the backfield – just 15 carries over the past two seasons, for a combined 61 yards and no touchdowns – he’s a big part of the passing game as both a blocker in protecting the quarterback, and as a receiver. He averaged 10.8 yards on his 30 receptions in 2018 and had 31 catches in 2017 for a 9.5-yard average.
But as one writer pointed out in 2018, “Juice” is not a throwback as a fullback to an earlier time, but a “unicorn” in that he’s a special player who is perfectly suited to Shanahan’s system of offense, capable of running deep routes out of the backfield or lining up anywhere he’s needed.
“Kyle is a great player,” Shanahan said late last season. “He’s as good of a fullback as there is or probably has been.”
Last season, he had 56- and 35-yard receptions while not lined up at fullback, but as a slot receiver. He has the speed to do that, while also having the size for breaking tackles once he gets into the secondary.
When Shanahan entered this offseason, he knew the 49ers needed major upgrades at almost all positions. But Juszczyk’s spot was exempt.
“We’re looking to improve at every position except quarterback and fullback,” said Shanahan.
In 2019, Shanahan’s “unicorn” should again play a high-impact role in the 49ers offense.