In case you’ve been cave diving for the past two weeks, Bill Belichick has upgraded multiple positions of need for his 2021 roster. Fullback wasn’t exactly one of those holes, but it’s clear that the Patriots still want to utilize and perhaps emphasize the position.
So it’s entirely unsurprising that they have agreed to a deal with exclusive rights free agent (ERFA) Jakob Johnson, who played in all 16 games and started 11 of them as the Patriots’ primary fullback in 2020. Johnson’s ERFA status means he was almost certainly going to be on the Patriots roster entering 2021 off-season workouts. But due to the minimal financial commitment required to retain an ERFA, Johnson is no sure thing to make the 53-man roster.
The bigger reason Johnson is not a roster lock, however, is because the Pats have two other potential fullbacks in the fold. Dan Vitale, who opted out of the 2020 season amid COVID-19 concerns, is preparing to play again in 2021. He signed a one-year deal with the Patriots a year ago, which carries over. Vitale has a chance to be a more dynamic pass-catcher at fullback than Johnson, sort of the Patriots’ version of the 49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk. He’s also a specimen of a human, based on his Instagram page:
In addition to Vitale and Johnson, the Patriots drafted Dalton Keene out of Virginia Tech in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. While Keene technically came out of the draft as a tight end, he made little headway on an already-thin depth chart at that position and he projects as more of an H-back/fullback type of player. Keene occasionally lined up at fullback in 2020, in addition to being used as an in-line tight end when active.
The Patriots can most certainly be expected to run their 2021 offense through their two high-priced tight ends, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. But expect plenty of “21” personnel with a fullback, too. They will have plenty of options to determine the best fit for what they want to do at that position, and it should help the offense become much more unpredictable in 2021.
Despite all this, fullback wasn’t one of the biggest items on the to-do list for the Patriots. Scroll down to read about some of the most important tasks left on Bill Belichick’s off-season agenda.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.