The Dallas Cowboys have a long history of converting linebackers into fullbacks. With veteran FB Jamize Olawale having opted out of the 2020 season, could they replace him by making undrafted rookie Francis Bernard their next LB-to-FB convert?
Olawale was one of three Cowboys to declare he was sitting out this year due to COVID-19 concerns. While Jamize only played about 10.5% of the offensive snaps in 2020 the fullback still has an important role on crucial short-yardage situations, especially around the goal line.
Dallas may not need a true FB to handle those lead blocking duties. If one of them is up to the task, a tight end like Blake Bell or Dalton Schultz might be able to play out of the backfield.
But another option could be converting a linebacker, or at least finding one who can play a hybrid role on the roster. The last starting fullback before Olawale was Keith Smith, who actually played two years at LB for Dallas before being moved to FB in 2016.
The most famous example of this LB-to-FB conversion was in the late 90s with Robert Thomas. After a year at linebacker in Dallas, Thomas was moved to fullback and then took over in 1999 when Daryl “Moose” Johnston suffered a career-ending neck injury. He would hold that job for four seasons and help Emmitt Smith become the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
In the years between Thomas and Smith at fullback, the Cowboys have also tried converted linebackers such as Deon Anderson, Isaiah Greenhouse, and Oliver Hoyte in the role. None have been as successful as the other two but it demonstrates that Dallas has consistently employed this tactic for over two decades.
So why do I think Francis Bernard could be next?
The biggest reason is that Bernard actually has a background at running back. That was his high school position and he spent a year there at BYU before moving to linebacker.
As a freshman RB at BYU Francis had 334 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on just 52 carries. He also caught 17 passes for 156 yards and two more scores. But when Jamaal Williams became the Cougars lead back in 2016, Bernard was switched to the defense.
Along with that offensive experience Francis also has the body for it; currently listed at 6'1″ and 230 pounds on the Cowboys official roster. Many fullbacks are around that size and Bernard could likely add some weight if needed.
Obviously, being able to read and lead block is the key to Bernard or any other player being used at fullback. The Cowboys would have to assess his ability to do this over fellow UDFA Sewo Olonilua, the only true FB currently on the roster, or any of the TE options.
As long as he could handle the fullback duties adequately, where Francis Bernard can outshine these other players in on special teams. That was where Jamize Olawale got most of his playing time and where Bernard has also been a college standout.
Getting use out of Bernard at FB could be big for Dallas' overall roster management. Rather than having to choose between him and Justin March at linebacker, both could now make the squad and be used on special teams together.
Believe me, I have no idea if this concept is even on the Cowboys' radar. It is just another speculation as we wait for some real news to talk about here at the dawn of training camp.
But given Dallas' history with converting linebackers to fullback, which goes back far longer than any one coaching staff or even Will McClay, it's a move that I could easily see happening again in 2020. Francis Bernard seems to have the makeup to be a worthy candidate, and the need is there after Olawale's opt out.