The Dallas Cowboys have only had one player opt-out of the 2020 NFL season thus far; Fullback Jamize Olawale. Though he’s a starter for the team and on the few occasions the Cowboys used him, his experience will be missed. But do the Cowboys need to worry about finding a fullback to replace him? I’d argue no.
First, let’s look at how much Olawale played for the Cowboys over the last couple of seasons. In 2018, he played just 10% of the offensive snaps on the season. 114 offensive snaps over a 16 game season. That year he played more than 10 snaps in only three games. Again, in 2019, Olawale played just 10% of the offensive snaps, this time 118 on the season. Throughout two seasons, that amounts to 7.25 offensive snaps per game.
Now that’s not to say that Jamize Olawale won’t be missed on special teams. Over the last two seasons, he played 62% of the special teams snaps. The Cowboys will have to figure out how to replace those snaps from a reliable veteran special teams player. However, are 7.25 offensive snaps a game enough to be concerned with finding a replacement?
From an efficiency standpoint, personnel groupings that included a fullback were less efficient than those that didn’t.
In 2018, when the Dallas Cowboys ran out of 21 personnel (2 RBs, 1 TE), they averaged 3.8 yards per carry and a successful run rate of just 49%. When they were in 22 personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs), their success rate dropped to 28% and 0.3 yards per carry. They did rush for four touchdowns out of this grouping, which indicates they mostly used it in short-yardage, but out of 32 plays, a success rate of 28% is not good. While 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE) might have had the same success rate as 21 personnel, their yards per carry jumped to 5.2.
Last season, when the Cowboys ran out of 21 personnel, they averaged 4.9 yards per carry and a successful run rate of 56%. In 11 personnel, however, they were better averaging 5.2 yards per carry and a successful run rate of 58%. They ran the ball nearly 200 more times out of 11 personnel than they did out of 21 personnel. Again, in 22 personnel, the Cowboys had just a 28% successful run rate, and while they again scored four touchdowns in this personnel grouping, they had a negative yard per carry rate of -0.4 yards per carry.
The Dallas Cowboys and Ezekiel Elliott have been more effective running out of single back looks over the last couple of years than any with two running backs in the formation. Olawale’s versatility as a pass-catcher has never really been put on display since coming over from the Raiders, and it seems he’s been an odd fit in an offense that wanted to use more three-wide receiver or multiple tight end sets.
There are teams in the NFL who utilize fullbacks efficiently, but the Dallas Cowboys have struggled to do so over the years. Even before Olawale, the Cowboys experimented with converted linebacker Keith Smith, who was effective given his lack of experience at the position. However, the Cowboys’ fullback usage has never been a priority in their offense.
With Kellen Moore taking the reigns, it was thought that Olawale might see more of a role in the offense moving forward. After Moore’s promotion early in the 2019 offseason, the first player, the Dallas Cowboys, re-signed was Jamize Olawale. Yet, his usage didn’t increase all that much, and the team’s effectiveness with him on the field didn’t see much of a difference from the year before.
When Mike McCarthy was hired, and Olawale was re-signed to a one-year deal for the second consecutive season, there was a buzz that maybe we’d finally see the Cowboys put a fullback to work in the offense. Olawale’s opt-out cuts short any optimism that we’d get to see him adequately deployed. That said, it might not be the worst thing in the world for the Cowboys to not have a fullback moving forward.
If you take a look at who the Dallas Cowboys best skill position players are, there wasn’t going to be a lot of snaps for Olawale and won’t for another fullback moving forward. With Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, and Blake Jarwin, the Dallas Cowboys need to make sure five of these six players are on the field nearly 100% of the time. Of course, there will be times when one of your receivers needs a breather or Jarwin takes a few snaps off, but the Cowboys need to work with personnel groupings that maximize the snap counts for those six players. Lots of 11 personnel and 20 personnel (with Elliott and Pollard) in some variation needs to be Kellen Moore and Mike McCarthy’s priority.
The Dallas Cowboys offense got more pass-happy in 2019 to tremendous effect, and they’ll look to double-down on that moving forward. With the addition of CeeDee Lamb and the promotion of Blake Jarwin into the starting lineup, the Cowboys will continue to throw the ball and throw the ball down the field a lot in Kellen Moore’s second season as an offensive coordinator.
The fullback position, when used correctly, can be an effective weapon for an offense even in the modern NFL. However, it’s usage rate isn’t so much that the Cowboys can’t get those snaps from a backup tight end.