After Jamize Olawale decided to opt-out of the 2019 NFL season, Sewo Olonilua emerged as a strong candidate to make the roster to give the Dallas Cowboys a starter at fullback. The undrafted rookie from TCU had a solid career as a running back in college but it's his versatility that makes him a serious 53-man roster candidate.
However, with training camp underway, Olonilua has faced some competition from Darius Anderson and Rico Dowdle. Based on reports from Cowboys Camp, it sounds like it's Dowdle who has emerged as the leading RB3 for the team.
It's unlikely the Cowboys want to go into the regular season with three running backs and a fullback considering they've got a three-down starter in Ezekiel Elliott. So really, the debate will revolve around two scenarios.
Do they keep two running backs and a fullback who's versatile enough to play as the third RB? Or do they keep three running backs, one of which is versatile enough to play the role of a lead blocker?
While many have pointed toward the fact that the Cowboys haven't really put much emphasis at fullback, that could change under Mike McCarthy's coaching staff. True, the Cowboys used Jamize Olawale in only 10.5% of the team snaps in 2019 (the snap counts don't get better for the fullback position if you go look up previous years, by the way) but Mike McCarthy did.
In the last five years, the Cowboys didn't use a fullback more than 13% of the snaps in a single season.* Now let's take a look at Mike McCarthy's last five full seasons at Green Bay and his starting FB:
- 2017: Aaron Ripkowski, 17%
- 2016: Aaron Ripkowski, 27%
- 2015: John Kuhn, 27%
- 2014: John Kuhn, 18%
- 2013: John Kuhn: 28%
*All snap counts are retrieved from Pro Football Reference. In 2017, Rod Smith is listed as a fullback with over 20% of the snaps. However, that number increased due to Elliott's suspension when Smith had to fill in at running back and isn't really relevant.
“But hey, aren't fullbacks extinct?” you might ask, but no, they aren't.
In fact, fullbacks are still in the NFL, and teams that use them properly get a lot out of them. In 2019, 21 personnel was the most efficient grouping in terms of yards per play, EPA per play, and success rate across the league, per Warren Sharp's remarkable thread on fullbacks.
Although many will mention Tony Pollard as the guy to group with Zeke for 21 personnel lineups, there are different things a true fullback can bring to the table, especially because they create matchup problems for opposing defenses. Why not mix it up?
Let's talk fullbacks
FBs provide a key value that often gets overlooked, even in the spread passing age of the NFL
From the father of the West Coast offense, Bill Walsh:
If Sewo Olonilua has the better skill set to become a full-time fullback for the Dallas Cowboys, he might be the best option for the 53-man roster behind Elliott and Tony Pollard.
McCarthy is a head coach who never stopped using fullbacks on his offenses and as he leans toward analytics trends, he might be all-in in keeping one on the team as the Cowboys expect to be Super Bowl contenders in 2020.