On this team, we have two star running backs. It is without question that DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have been the bread and butter of this offense for the last couple of years, especially with Jake Delhomme discovering new ways to stink up the field! Last year they were the first pair of RB's in NFL history to rush for over 1,100 yards each, and they seem poise to try to break that record this year as well. However, one of the greatest reasons that they have been such good players was because Brad Hoover was such a good fullback. When the Panthers made it to the Super Bowl in 2004, Brad Hoover was helping Stephen Davis to a career high 1444 rushing yards in the regular season. When DeAngelo Williams broke the Panthers team record for rushing in 2008, Brad Hoover was the man leading the way.
But now, for whatever reason, the Panthers have cut Brad Hoover on the basis that he is too old. We have this huge age movement that can be argued either way whether or not it was taken too far. This particular move makes sense though. For the first time in nearly 4 seasons, Brad Hoover went down last year to injury in Week 9 and missed 3 games. And at age 33, he's well past his peak in his career. While we all will miss yelling "Hooooooove!" every time he got a carry, this cut was necessary in order further the advancement of the team and our jaw-breaking rushing attack.
There are few candidates to replace such a man as Brad, but the Panthers prepared ahead. Since there is only one position at FB and very few players capable to fill it in, the list here is going to be very short.
Tony Fiammetta - 6 feet 246 pounds, 2nd year with Carolina, Syracuse
Tony Fiammetta is your classic John Fox pick. Taken in the 4th round of the NFL Draft, he was graded as the best FB in the draft among draft circles. With his strong work ethic and his family's military background, Tony Fiammetta attracted the Panthers interest due to his strong senior year at Syracuse. He was a huge factor in his teammate Curtis Brinkley's 1,100 yard season, and often was described by his coaches as "having intangibles that made him indispensable to the offense." Among his achievements, his lone college touchdown was the game winning score in Syracuse's win over Louisville, a moment that catapulted him into the national spotlight.
Not only will Tony Fiammetta provide the type of player that Brad Hoover once was to the Panthers, but he will provide a capable receiver out of the backfield as well. He's an upgrade at speed without giving anything up in power. However, he is an injury risk, and he needs to work on being more consistent with his blocks. He seemed to hesitate on who he was going to block on certain plays during the preseason last year, and hesitation in the NFL can kill you more often than not. He smelt of rookie, but this year he will smell like a NFL veteran. The Panthers are depending on him to start, and I don't see him disappointing us.
80% chance to make roster, 80% to start.
Grabbed up by the Panthers after the NFL Draft, Rashawn Jackson was graded as being the top fullback heading into the talented 2010 draft-class. In his senior season, he rushed 91 times for 461 yards, and added 25 catches for 222 yards on top of that. However, he went undrafted partially because of the class being so talented and partially because of his criminal background while he played at the University of Virginia. In Octover 2008 he faced federal charges for breaking and entering into a college dorm committed in November 2007, but was later acquitted due to a lack of evidence.
He will be Tony Fiammetta's main competition going into training camp, but the question is will there even be a competition or not? It can be said that Rashawn Jackson has the tools and the body to be a good fullback for the Panthers if he has the skills. But will they compete, or is Jackson simply insurance in case Tony goes down or chokes during the preseason? Note John Fox's loyalty to veterans, because it might strike again right here. As a matter of fact, I'm betting that it does.
20% chance to make roster, 20% to start. He is also a great PS candidate.
Tyrell Sutton - 5,8 213 pounds, 2nd year with Carolina, Northwestern
Claimed off Waivers from Green Bay, people thought it was nuts when the Panthers decided to make Tyrell Sutton out of all people their emergency fullback when Tony Fiametta went down to injury. He did a good job. While he didn't have the size for the job, he still played remarkably well when tough times called for desperate measures. There is a great article here about where his high school coach talks about how he used to tackle LeBron James when he used to play with him in his Peewee football days.
The biggest question here is whether or not the Panthers will keep Sutton on the depth chart. He's here for his running back skills, and he has 3 talents ahead of him in DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Goodson. If the Panthers go with 4 RB's, chances are he'll be here in case of emergency. If they go with 3, then the Panthers are screwed if Fiammetta goes down. Either way, I do hope that they keep him. He may overtake Mike Goodson if given enough time, and he wouldn't cost as much money!
60% chance will make the roster, 0% will start at FB if Rashawn Jackson makes it to PS.
Jeff King - 6,3 260 pounds, 5th year with Carolina,
Jeff is probably next in line as your in-case-of-emergency-break-glass candidate at fullback. Honestly, if the Panthers fall this far there's not really much else you can do. But the Panthers have good talent at TE and they won't miss much with him gone, and if anything Jeff King is a body at fullback and that's at least saying something. If the Panthers fall this far though, don't be surprised if they don't resign Brad Hoover to come save the day. Really, Jeff King is only up here to give a 3rd option for fullback.
100% chance to make roster, 0% chance to start as fullback.