Jamize Olawale plays a position that has nearly gone the way of the Dodo in the NFL. Not many teams deploy fullbacks anymore. Certainly not in the traditional sense. Fullbacks in the modern era are hybrids, more H-back (lining up similar to tight ends) than the tank backfield lead-blockers of the position’s glory days. Fortunately, for Olawale, new Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has an affinity for fullbacks. Here is some visual proof.
Gruden is chopping up the Spider 3 Y Banana formation with quarterback Andrew Luck during his QB Camp session. Fast forward to see Gruden absolutely light up and revel in the former Stanford Cardinal and current Indianapolis Colts quarterback’s answer.
“Why the fullback?” Gruden asks Luck when the QB identified the FB as the primary receiver.
“He’s always open until they take it away,” Luck said. “You can’t go broke taking a profit.”
The primary is always the fullback. That alone should be elegant music to Raider Nation and, more specifically, Olawale. The forgotten man in a putrid offense last season, the 28-year-old played 82 snaps, caught six passes for 33 yards, and carried the rock nine times for 43 yards and a score. The converted wide receiver’s 2016 campaign was more reminiscent of Gruden usage. In 263 snaps, he grabbed 12 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown with 17 carries for 47 yards and two more scores.
Gruden prescribes to the notion the more the merrier. More targets for the quarterback, more headaches the defense has to deal with.
What type of usage is Olawale looking at specifically? Let us look at the best season fullbacks Jon Ritchie (Raiders) and Mike Alstott (Buccaneers) had when Gruden was the play caller:
Ritchie: 1999, 45 catches (61 targets) for 408 yards and a TD.
Alstott: 2001, 35 catches (50 targets) for 231 yards and a score; 165 carries for 680 yards and 10 TDs.
If Olawale gets half of that activity, he will produce. Yes, he is not an accomplished or sound ball carrier by any means, so do not expect him to get more than 30 handoffs (24 was his career-best in 2015 for 110 yards). However, he is unquestionably a more polished pass catcher than bulldozer’s Ritchie and Alstott — combined.
Olawale can run crisp routes and is a legitimate threat out the backfield, as evidenced by his 75-yard catch and run in Mexico City against the Texans two seasons ago.
Here is something neither Alstott nor Richie offered: 4.40 speed. Even at the age of 28, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Olawale worked diligently to get that timed sprint.
“He came here and changed the attitude of the whole program, the whole atmosphere,” Olawale said of departed Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio. “For a while there, we didn’t have any winning seasons. He came in here and we were able to turn things around. Moving forward, the future is bright.”
You could take the last part of that quote word-for-word and apply it to the impact Gruden will have, especially at fullback. The fullback is always open. We will get to see how open the revered head coach is on getting an underutilized athlete.