Will Eagles Keep A Fullback?

In one breath, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was talking about the importance of the fullback position in the Eagles’ offense.

In the next, he seemed to think that the idea of not having one on the roster at all was at least possible.

“There aren’t all that many true fullbacks left in this league,” Mornhinweg said. “We’ve typically had one because they’re very valuable with some of the things that we do. Special teams count for that particular type of player, normally.”

Right now, the Eagles’ first-team fullback is Stanley Havili, a seventh-round draft pick from 2011. They’ve also got undrafted free agents Jeremy Stewart (Stanford) and Emil Igwenagu (UMass) on the roster. Igwenagu has been getting work with the tight ends since Brent Celek has been sidelined.

To figure out what the Eagles want out of their fullback, it’s easiest to go back to last season when Owen Schmitt manned the spot. Schmitt played 15.8 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus. He had four carries for 6 yards and three catches (seven targets) for 32 yards. Obviously, not an integral part of the offense when the ball was in his hands.

But how was he used overall?

Schmitt went out into pass routes 42 percent of the time; he was a run blocker 41 percent of the time; a pass blocker 14 percent of the time and a runner 2 percent of the time.

Based on those numbers, it’s fair to guess that the Eagles are looking for someone who can catch the ball and be effective as a lead blocker. Of course, it’s also fair to point out that the coaches had to cater to Schmitt’s skill set. If, say, they had a healthy Leonard Weaver from a few years ago, he’d definitely be used differently and carry the ball more.

Havili had 1,290 yards receiving and 12 touchdown catches during his career at USC.

If you look at LeSean McCoy’s numbers, having a fullback didn’t exactly help him. According to STATS.com, McCoy carried 232 times for 1,186 yards and averaged 5.1 YPC in single-back formations. He carried 19 times for 51 yards (2.7 YPC) out of the I-Formation and 22 times for 72 yards (3.3 YPC) with split backs.

The numbers are not as bad as they look though. Consider that the I-Formation carries were likely short-yardage attempts and that McCoy converted first downs or touchdowns on 13 of those 19 runs. He had seven red-zone scores with a lead blocker out of the I-Formation.

Looking at overall personnel, Brent Celek has evolved into a very good overall tight end, and Jason Avant plays a lot of snaps (66.5 percent) as the third wide receiver. So it’s unlikely that any of the fullbacks on the current roster would play a major role in 2012.

But that doesn’t mean the position should be ignored. Games can swing on a handful of plays. It could be a key third-down catch. An important blitz pickup. Or a lead block for McCoy in the red zone.

Mornhinweg and the coaches need to decide whether any of their current fullbacks possesses those skills. If one of them does, chances are he’ll make the roster. If not, the Eagles could look to add a free agent, or ignore the position altogether.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.