In the offseason last year, after a six-year career that included stops in Detroit, Chicago, Washington, and New Orleans, Michael Burton signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs had a hole at the fullback position after the retirement of Anthony Sherman in early March of 2021. They waited about a month but got their guy in Burton.
In the Patrick Mahomes era, the Chiefs have been a team that hasn’t utilized the fullback position as much as others, like Baltimore and San Francisco. However, earlier in Andy Reid’s tenure in Kansas City, the Chiefs used Anthony Sherman a lot more than in the later years.
In the Andy Reid era, here are the number of snaps that fullbacks have played on offense:
- 2013: 414
- 2014: 252
- 2015: 204
- 2016: 274
- 2017: 183
- 2018: 104
- 2019: 121
- 2020: 76 (Note: Anthony Sherman was inactive for several games due to COVID in 2020)
- 2021: 106 (Michael Burton)
After peaking early, the snaps that “Sausage” saw decreased as time went on, with a sharp decline as soon as the Mahomes era began.
It makes sense that the Chiefs would not use a fullback as much since they go “empty” a lot more with Mahomes than they did with Alex Smith. Also, with Mahomes, the Chiefs have become more explosive and reliant on big plays which fullbacks (generally) aren’t a huge part of. Run-centric teams, such as San Francisco and Baltimore, tend to use their fullbacks more than passing-first teams. Also, not only are those previously mentioned teams more run-heavy, but they also run more power-heavy run plays than the Chiefs have run under Reid.
Will the Chiefs increase the use of Burton this season or will they continue to not incorporate the fullback position as a regular part of their offense?
With Reid, the Chiefs have liked their offensive to be more athletic than just straight-up maulers. They like their big guys to get involved screens and also in space on many run plays. This usually translates to fewer snaps for fullbacks since fullbacks, in run-blocking situations, tend to be more effective in the short-yardage/downhill plays than out in space against linebackers.
But recently, with draft picks like Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, and Darian Kinnard, who are all better run-blockers than pass-protectors and guys who would be labeled “maulers”, it could be a signal that the Chiefs are going to alter their offensive philosophy.
In my opinion, the Chiefs’ biggest strength, outside of quarterback and tight end, is their offensive line. Moreso, the Chiefs, despite Andy Reid’s seemingly unwillingness to run the ball, sported the 3rd best run-blocking offensive line in the entire NFL last year, only ranking behind Dallas and San Francisco, per Pro Football Focus ($). It can also be argued that the Chiefs’ stubbornness when it comes to running the ball cost them a trip to the Super Bowl last year.
What does this all mean for Burton? If the Chiefs are willing to become a more balanced team this fall, that would not only include more running plays, but power running plays. And more power running plays likely means more 21 and 22 personnel, which will increase the number of times that Michael Burton sees the field. One of the running themes of the linemen they’ve recently drafted has been their strong ability in the run game. If the Chiefs use their young linemen to their advantage, that would call for more inside power runs, which fullbacks are designed for, not only blocking but being the ball carrier as well.
Increased snaps for Burton wouldn’t just mean more blocking. In 2021, Michael Burton had 10 carries for 30 yards and a touchdown. According to PFF, seven of those ten rushing attempts came between the center and right tackle. Also, a good amount of his attempts were on short-yardage situations, primarily on third and fourth downs. Teams that use their fullbacks frequently also make them a small part of their rushing offense. Elijhaa Penny, of the Giants, had 24 attempts last year, while Kyle Juszczyk of SF had 11, and Burton had 10. One thing that should be noted is that Burton had 10 attempts on 77 run-play snaps, the highest rate of any fullback, outside of Penny.
In conclusion, if Andy Reid and co. really do change the way they run their offense and become more patient with the run, that absolutely should translate to not only more snaps for Michael Burton but more rushing attempts as well.
What do you think of Michael Burton? Do you think the Chiefs will use him more in 2022? Feel free to let me know in the comment section or on Twitter (@StozinskyLucas).