Houston Texans fullback Vonta Leach didn't carry the ball once last season, but he cleared the way for teammate Arian Foster to do so 324 times for an NFL-high 1,616 yards. Leach's peers noticed that and voted him the 65th-best player on NFL Network's "Top 100 Players for 2011."
But is No. 65 too high for a fullback, a position whose importance has diminished in the NFL? Did Leach really have a better season than promising young quarterbacks such as Baltimore's Joe Flacco (No. 90) and Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman (No. 86)?
Quarterbacks deserve more considerationThis isn't meant as a direct criticism of Leach's performance, but there is no way he should be rated higher than Freeman or Flacco.
It matters that Leach plays his position well enough to rank 65th. However, excelling at fullback isn't the same as being a standout at quarterback. Freeman and Flacco accomplished more because they did so at a more vital spot.
Leach's ranking is giving far too much weight to a role that, in the grand scheme of things, isn't all that significant.
Leach could lead fullback revivalVonta Leach is a heck of a football player. But should a fullback be in "The Top 100?" If you block for the league's leading rusher, then I'd say the answer is unequivocally yes.
Current NFL Network analyst Daryl Johnston brought some scratch to the fullback position in the 1990s when he received "Moose" calls in visiting stadiums, despite the Dallas Cowboys' unpopularity. It didn't hurt that Pat Summerall and John Madden always called attention to his play. Larry Centers caught 101 passes for the Arizona Cardinals in 1995, further promoting the position.
Since then, the idea of fullback as a premier position has fallen off drastically. Maybe it's time a good player such as Leach brought it back.
Where fullbacks are drafted is a signNo. 65 seems too high for a fullback in the modern NFL. Fullbacks are rarely drafted in the first three rounds, which turns out to be the top 100 players selected each year.
It's hard for me to think a guy like Flacco, who led the Ravens to the playoffs in all of his first three seasons, is below Leach on the list.
Leach is the best of a dying breedDuring an era in which quarterbacks are flourishing and offenses are becoming more aggressive with spread concepts, I figure this might be a little high for a fullback.
I'm a big fan of fullbacks, in general, and believe they're awfully underrated, but if we're talking about the top 100 players in the world, regardless of position, then I'll probably be in favor of more impactful spots.
I want a few fullbacks on the list, no doubt, and Leach definitely is among the best at what he does. But I'm not sure I'd rate him above, say, emerging quarterbacks such as Flacco or Freeman or dominant pass rushers like Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
If peers say Leach deserves it, he doesI bet Foster would rank Leach in the top 10, as would many linebackers and safeties who had to face him on lead blocks.
This situation really is a tough one. Leach is a great fullback, the type of guy a lot of teams would like to have. He's clearly of high value to the Texans and, since he is a rarity, I believe he's a "Top 100" player. The thing is, we know that fullbacks, especially lead-blocking ones -- not H-back pass-catchers -- have diminished in value as NFL offenses become more spread out to bolster the passing game. Houston is one of those teams, in fact.
Which leads me to this: The fact that Leach distinguished himself among his peers, at a position that many teams don't highly value, makes him worthy. We could debate that No. 65 is too high, but he has done his job well for years without receiving lots of recognition.