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Is 49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk a Hall-of-Famer? Or is he just the NFL’s last great fullback?

Chris Wilson
Jul 2, 2024 at 6:30 AM

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Does 49ers running back Kyle Juszczyk deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame? Or will his eventual retirement mark the end of the modern NFL fullback?

The NFL writers at CBS Sports recently examined the Hall-of-Fame prospects of 12 current NFL players who have Hall-of-Fame aspirations but whose cases are not as clear-cut as some of their peers. Author Bryan DeArdo and eight of his CBS Sports colleagues voted on whether each player's career is currently Hall-of-Fame worthy, with five of nine potential votes required for hypothetical induction.

To be considered, each player had to be currently on a roster and have a total of at least eight NFL seasons under his belt. 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk made the group's initial list but wasn't voted through. But perhaps more interesting is how his peers fared in comparison:

We'll start with CBS Sports' inductees:

Mike Evans: 7 votes
Derrick Henry: 7 votes
Tyreek Hill: 7 votes
Cameron Jordan: 7 votes
Davante Adams: 6 votes

There were no unanimous picks, and no players barely squeaked in. Titans running back Derrick Henry leading the list is a bit of a surprise; I assume he would need to continue at his current pace into his 30s for strong consideration. Devante Adams receiving fewer votes than both Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans is also curious.

In the eyes of CBS Sports, the following players fall short and still have something to prove:

Cameron Heyward: 4 votes
DeAndre Hopkins: 4 votes
Jalen Ramsey: 3 votes
Matthew Stafford: 3 votes
Kyle Juszczyk: 2 votes
Russell Wilson: 2 votes
Keenan Allen: 1 vote

DeAndre Hopkins misses the cut due to his lackluster post-Houston career, and while Keenan Allen doesn't deserve a spot in the Hall, the vote disparity between Allen and his fellow receivers is far more substantive than their differences on the playing field.

While I agree with Stafford's snub, I'm a little surprised the writers were on the same page, although there's a very strong case to be made that Russell Wilson has the superior NFL career.

49ers Kyle Juszczyk, Hall-of-Famer?

"Juice" managed to tally two of nine potential votes, which is impressive in itself. As CBS Sports explained, "Juszczyk has the bona fides as an eight-time Pro Bowler and earned his first All-Pro in 2023. But no fullback has ever made the Hall of Fame without putting up some numbers, which is something Juszczyk doesn't have."

CBS Sports has a valid point regarding the fullback's lack of eye-popping statistics, but they leave out significant and necessary context: All of the NFL's Hall of Fame fullbacks played between the 1920s and the 1960s, with Dolphins running back Larry Csonka being the outlier as his career spanned into the 1970s.

Csonka was also named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl VIII after a 145-yard, two-touchdown performance. Similarly, all of the other fullbacks in the Hall of Fame would be considered running backs—or halfbacks—in today's NFL.

The statement, "Jim Brown was one of the best fullbacks to ever play the game," doesn't quite flow off the tongue, but Brown was technically a fullback as well.

The position has obviously changed drastically over the years, and it continues to change. Less than half of the teams in the NFL used a fullback in 2023, and teams with fullbacks rarely used them in the traditional sense. When Juszczyk is on the field, he may start out at fullback, but he is sent in motion nearly half of the time.

Whatever the fullback position has become over the past fifty years, the NFL Hall of Fame doesn't like it—even when compared to kickers and punters, as both position groups have more recent inductees.

Fullbacks and the NFL Hall of Fame

So, is it even possible for a fullback to make the Hall of Fame? Recent history suggests no.

During this century and the years prior, we've seen three types of fullbacks excel in the NFL. The first type is most similar to the potentially mislabeled fullbacks of old; violent run-first backs like Mike Alstott, who may not have the speed or agility to play halfback in the NFL but have the size, willingness, and ability to run over defenders. However, this type is a dying breed, thanks to running backs like Derek Henry, who also weighs 250 pounds but can move at nearly 22 miles per hour.

The second type is every halfback's best friend: powerful hole-openers like Lorenzo Neal, who clear away running paths for smaller halfbacks to fly through. Over an 11-year stretch, Neal played for five different teams, and each season, whichever halfback was lined up behind him followed Neal's lead for over 1,000 rushing yards. And these elite block-first backs aren't one-trick ponies; if they're not a potential threat with the ball in their hands, teams could utilize a backup offensive lineman for the same task.

The third, and perhaps final, type of fullback is the rare all-purpose fullback who can do it all, like Juszczyk. They can lead the way on running plays, line up at tight end, motion outside like a receiver, or stay in the backfield as a blocker or screen-pass target; they take handoffs at the goal line, make toe-tapping catches on the sideline, and sneak out of the backfield uncovered for long catch-and-runs. They're "multiple." Instead of "fullbacks," we could call them "Offensive Weapons."

All three types of fullbacks have proven to be dangerous weapons, even lethal in certain schemes, and sometimes true difference-makers, but apparently none of them are Hall-of-Fame material. While lacking Alstott's height, Mike Tolbert fully earned his "Toldozer" nickname and may be the last fullback who would also fill in at feature back.

Along with Neal was Tony Henderson, who cleared the way for and helped create numerous Pro-Bowlers, including Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson, Chester Taylor, Adrian Peterson, and Thomas Jones. Before Juice, there was Larry Centers, both a fullback and a record-breaking receiver, and a player who truly redefined the fullback position.

Looking back, there were many additional fullbacks who played at an elite level for a sustained period of time, including household names like the Cowboys' Daryl Johnston and the 49ers' Tom Rathman, among others.

None of these players are in the NFL Hall of Fame.

When I first read the question, "Is Kyle Juszczyk a Hall-of-Famer?" my knee-jerk reaction was, "No." I assume yours was the same. Similarly, if I asked you which current NFL fullback is the most deserving, Juice would be the overwhelming choice.

But if we ask ourselves, "Why not?" There's no longer an obvious response. Because, depending on your opinion, there are a few potential answers: Maybe you don't think he's good enough. Maybe you think Larry Centers is more deserving. Maybe he's just not enough of a difference-maker in your eyes. But regardless of your opinion, it is coupled with an additional, stronger reason:

Because he can't.

Kyle Juszczyk plays fullback, and by today's definition of the position, there are no fullbacks in the NFL Hall of Fame; the only position on either side of the ball where being the best of the best in the history of the game... well, simply doesn't matter.

Just doesn't feel right. Does it?

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