With the retirement of James Develin, a hole has been opened at fullback for the New England Patriots, and there are a few players that could step up and win the spot. One of those players is former Green Bay Packers fullback Dan Vitale.
Now, Vitale and Develin are completely different players. Vitale isn't nearly the blocker that Develin was, but Vitale is a more versatile player. Vitale is also a much better athlete than Develin. Vitale crushed the combine, posting numbers such as a 4.6 40 yard dash, a 38 1/2 inch vertical, and a 123-inch broad jump.
Vitale has some stiff competition for the starting fullback job. He has to compete against Jakob Johnson and perhaps even Dalton Keene. The main factors that could win Vitale the job are his experience in the NFL, his athleticism, and his versatility.
Now, it's time to get into his tape.
For the first clip, Vitale, No. 45, shows off his athleticism. He is a legitimate receiving threat and this is a perfect example of that. The Packers have Vitale run a wheel route here and he is in a 1-on-1 matchup against Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell. Jewell bites hard on the play action and Vitale is able to get right past him. Vitale also shows off soft hands here as he brings in the catch. This is a play that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could incorporate right away for Vitale.
This next clip against the Eagles shows off a bit of Vitale's versatility. Vitale starts off lined up out wide and then Aaron Rodgers motions him into the backfield. Vitale gets the carry and has a nice cutback to get some extra yards. Now, this isn't something Vitale should do consistently, but this can add a wrinkle to the offense to keep defenses guessing.
Vitale is lined up in the backfield as a running back again here, but this time he is a pass blocker. The Eagles show that they could be blitzing safety Malcolm Jenkins and linebacker Nigel Bradham before the snap. Instead, Bradham and Jenkins drop back into coverage and the other linebacker, Kamu Grugier-Hill, blitzes instead. Vitale does a great job picking up the blitzing linebacker and forcing him left to help open up a huge hole for Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is able to keep the play alive and find a nice completion on 3rd down that ends up going for a solid gain.
Vitale is lined up as a traditional fullback here and he gets to show off his receiving skills again. He's the check down option here and he runs a solid route and shows off his hands again. He also shows off that he isn't the easiest player to tackle, especially when it is defensive backs that try to tackle him. He isn't able to break this tackle, but he's able to keep moving, gets a few extra yards and almost gets a first down.
Vitale gets to show off his athleticism on this play and he's able to get a good gain. Vitale gets motioned out of the backfield to the right of the right tackle and the Packers get him the ball quickly. Vitale gets matched up against a defensive end on this play and that is a major mismatch in Vitale's favor. He gets away from the end pretty easily and picks up 20+ yards before being pushed out of bounds.
Here's a clip of Vitale's run blocking. He's not a great run blocker, but he can get in someone's way. Vitale does a good job here making sure the linebacker can't make a play on the running back with his block. He's not going to be a fullback that moves people in the run game, but he can get in a defenders way and help the running back in that way.
Here's another example of Vitale's run blocking. Instead of a linebacker, this time he goes up against a defensive end. He does a great job getting in the way of the end and that helps give the running back time to make a cut up field. As long as Vitale can be an average run blocker, he can get a lot of playing time and his versatility can be used all over the field.
Vitale doesn't only play offense, he also plays a lot on special teams. Special teams is one of the most underappreciated parts of football, but it plays a major role in games. Here, Vitale is able to get downfield and help force the return man out of bounds. Punt returns can swing a game if the returner is able to break free, so having a strong special teams unit is key to having a good team.
Here's another clip of Vitale on special teams. This time he blocks someone before they can block the punt. If Vitale doesn't block the linebacker here, this punt is most likely blocked and it could have been returned for a touchdown. Vitale's special teams experience and play could help the Patriots be one of the best special teams units in 2020.
Vitale is a very versatile player that can line up at fullback, tight end, running back for some snaps, and he can play special teams. New England could use Vitale similarly to how the 49ers use Kyle Juszczyk. San Francisco uses him all over the offense and Vitale offers that type of versatility as well. Josh McDaniels can look at how Vitale was used in Green Bay and expand his role in New England to get him more playing time. Vitale could be a solid check-down option for whoever the quarterback will be for the Patriots, and he could be great on wheel routes like the one he ran against the Broncos.
Time will tell if Vitale is able to win the starting fullback job or keep a roster spot. But he has the ability to be on the roster and contribute in multiple ways.