Cleveland Browns: Andy Janovich fights to retain fullback job

Sep 27, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) runs the ball as running back Andy Janovich (31) blocks for him against the Washington Football Team during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 27, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) runs the ball as running back Andy Janovich (31) blocks for him against the Washington Football Team during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /

Andy Janovich is a very good fullback, but the Cleveland Browns may have players who will try to challenge him for his job this summer.

Cleveland Browns fullback Andy Janovich has — quite literally — done a bang-up job for the team, but his roster spot is not quite a guaranteed sure thing. The coaching staff seems very pleased with the aggressive, rugged style of play that he brings to the offense, and the boost that he gives to the running game as well as the extra stability he brings to pass protection for Baker Mayfield.

Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are star running backs, but they don’t gain yards by themselves. They need help from blockers, and a good fullback makes them even more dangerous.

Nevertheless, Cleveland roster spots are tighter than ever before this season and Pro Football is a tough, tough business, even though the Browns are totally happy with the job that Janovich did last season. It’s a thankless job, almost as anonymous as an offense linemen, getting crushed by 300 pound mutants on every play, so that someone else can get the glory.

Plus, this is the Cleveland Browns. A fullback has been an integral part of the offense and the identity of the team since 1946, dating back to the days of Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Ernie Green, Bo Scott, Mike Pruitt, Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner. It just does not feel like Browns football without a bone-jarring blocker in the Cleveland backfield.

Andy Janovich has been the best fullback this team has had in years. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I want my team to be the one that wins in the trenches. I want the fullback who helps the team win by brute force rather than the extra speedy receiver with the clean uniform. My theory is that the prettier teams win in September, but tougher teams win in December and January, especially on natural turf in cold weather.

Janovich was used for 171 offensive snaps last season, as well as another 222 on special teams. Because he was used primarily as a blocker, he had very few touches — four, to be exact. He had two receptions in five targets, and also had two rushing attempts and a grand total of 17 yards. But that really doesn’t matter. He was used for his blocking, and he filled his role very well.

However, the Browns have at least four other options this season. They are listed below, along with a vague estimate of the propositional value of each outcome, based purely on intuition.

Janovich should be favored to keep his job, but not a huge favorite. For one thing, though the Browns really like him, he has zero guaranteed dollars this season, so in reality he is trying out for a $1.4 million position this season. That is all he has been given. So let’s say he has a 55% chance of being the opening day starter, making him the -125 favorite.

One alternative is that Johnny Stanton might take his job. Stanton was with Minnesota in 2018 and 2019 while Kevin Stefanski was the offensive coordinator, but he did not play in a regular-season game. Stanton got in one game with the Browns and took 21 snaps with the big team in 2020 and played reasonably well. In college, he played quarterback at Nebraska, and then transferred to the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

The Vikings thought about him as a linebacker for a while and then thought he might make it as a fullback. He is two years younger than Janovich, twelve pounds heavier, an inch taller, 0.06 seconds faster in the 40 yard dash, and his cap number is $825,000 versus $1,4 million for Janovich.

That’s a 43% discount. Let’s say Stanton’s chances are about one out of three, which would make him a +200 underdog. If the Browns decide to go with Janovich or some other option, there is a decent chance that Stanton would clear waivers, and could be signed to the practice squad if he is agreeable.

Second, just as Stanton converted from another position, the Browns might convert someone from another position who is currently not listed as a fullback. Tight end, running back, and linebacker are often candidates for conversion. It’s very likely that the Browns will try a few experiments this summer, but a huge long shot. maybe once every twenty years a candidate emerges that way, or +1900.

Third, the Browns might sign someone as a salary cap casualty from another team. One prominent possibility may be brewing over in Baltimore. The Ravens drafted a top college fullback, Ben Mason, to challenge Patrick Ricard, the 6-foot-3, 311-pound Pro Bowler. Mason would be a cheaper option for a team trying to figure out how to pay Lamar Jackson.

Would the Ravens go with two fullbacks on the 53 player roster? If not, there is going to be a premier player available when rosters are cut down. For what it’s worth, however, Pro Football Focus perceives a dropoff in his performance in 2020 compared to 2019. In fact, they grade Andy Janovich higher than the Pro Bowler Ricard. So who do you believe, the Pro Bowl selection process, or the PFF grading system?

Overthecap indicates that the Ravens could recover $2 million if they cut Ricard, so that might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. In fact, Mason should actually be a slight favorite to beat out Ricard. However, if the Browns sign Ricard, it would represent an additional expense compared to Janovich, and moreover Ricard does not know the Browns’ system.

The team with the most to gain by signing him is probably the New England Patriots, not the Cleveland Browns. Ricard would be a major upgrade over Jakob Johnson for the the Patriots, while the Browns may or may not regard Ricard as an upgrade. So the scenario that the Browns acquire a new player for the starting fullback position is also a longshot, let’s say about 3% or +3200.

A fourth possibility is that the Browns may decide they simply do not have a roster space for a fullback at all.  Let’s say that is +2400, or about 4%. The Browns have four tight ends that they really like in Pro Bowler Austin Hooper, talented but oft-injured David Njoku, highly regarded second-year player Harrison Bryant and underrated Stephen Carlson. It is hard to justify a roster space for a fullback plus four tight ends, so something might have to give somewhere.

Next. 4 things to expect from the Browns this preseason. dark

It would be a worthwhile debate to discuss the merits of a fullback versus a blocking tight end, and how important it is (or is not) for the Browns to have both types of players available.