The Cleveland Browns have two players who can play fullback in the NFL. It will not be easy to pick the starter.
The Cleveland Browns have two outstanding candidates to play fullback this season in Andy Janovich and Johnny Stanton.
This is one of the toughest battles we have seen between two fierce competitors since Ali versus Frazier, Tiger versus Mickelson, or Bird versus Magic. Well, okay, maybe that is overly melodramatic, but you get the idea.
Andy Janovich was a terrific player for the Browns last season. Much of what he contributes does not appear in the box score. The fullback nowadays is almost like a sixth offensive lineman, choosing his spot to block for the running game or plugging holes in pass protection.
Janovich is a proven player who can spring loose Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, or save Baker Mayfield from potential disaster. Once in a while he catches a pass or runs the ball when opposing defenses take him too lightly, but that is not his forte. He just brings his hard hat and lunch pail to the stadium and goes to work. The Dawg Pound appreciates players like Janovich.
Stanton played only one game for the Browns last season as a substitute from the practice squad. This summer, he has clearly outperformed Janovich, but his performances have come against the second and third string opposition.
He has split wide, made difficult catches, run the ball and also contributed blocking. He is more athletic than Janovich in all phases of the game, but is he as good as Janovich as a blocker against top caliber opposition? That is a tough question to answer.
Versus the Falcons on Sunday, Stanton performed his blocking duties well and also ran the ball three times for twelve yards, made a short reception for another four yards, and made a good play acting as a defending, jarring the ball loose when a Falcons defender made an interception.
Stanton has played middle linebacker in college as well as quarterback, so he has a diverse skill set, to say the least. He did everyting necessary to validate his ability as a multidimensional football player. How can coach Kevin Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt turn him down?
Janovich has the advantage of experience, since he is now in his sixth year in the NFL. He came to Cleveland last season after four productive seasons in Denver. However, Janovich’s contract calls for a $1.44 million salary this season, with none of it guaranteed. Stanton is at the NFL minimum of $660,000.
Hence, from an analytics point of view, if the two players are at about the same level, Stanton is the better value. On the other hand, Janovich’s salary is not very high in the overall scheme of things and is not going to break the bank.
The coaching staff also needs to consider which player is likely to improve the most this season and next. If Janovich has an edge right now, but Stanton is improving, he might project to be better over the course of a 17 game season and playoffs.
Could the Browns keep both players? There is some thought that Stanton could be kept as a fourth tight end, with Janovich used as a true fullback.
Alternatively, It is tempting to believe that, since most NFL teams do not carry a fullback on their roster, they might allow a fullback to clear waivers so that the Browns might be able to sign the second fullback to the practice squad. That is probably wishful thinking however.
Janovich is ranked as a better than average NFL fullback (top five, say). Janovich has ascended to that level also. In all likelihood, both Janovich and Stanton are too valuable to clear waivers.
Will both fullbacks make Cleveland Browns roster?
This observer’s guess is that Stanton will make the squad.
The reason is that if the coaching staff were thinking to retain Janovich and not Stanton, they would have played more three wide receiver sets and not used Stanton so much, since they definitely had receivers who they wanted to see more of.
They wanted to take another good long look at Stanton, and guessing here is that they liked what they saw. Most of his snaps were at fullback rather than as fourth tight end, so it’s less likely that the scenario of keeping both Janovich and Stanton on the 53-player roster will play out. Still, it’s not quite impossible. As Jim Carrey suggested in the movie Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”
Both players will continue their careers in the NFL. The only question is which one, or both, will continue on with the Browns for the season opener in Kansas City.