A hearty round of applause, please, for former University of Hawaii running back Joey Iosefa, who has the opportunity to join a select fraternity in the NFL.
And not just because, by virtue of being a seventh-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was the first Rainbow Warrior drafted since 2012.
Fullback, the role that the 6-foot, 247-pound Iosefa is apparently being fitted for in Tampa Bay, has become something of an endangered species in Roger Goodell’s pass-happy league.
If quarterbacks and wide receivers are the stars, fullbacks have become the chimney sweeps of the NFL, a hard-working bunch trying to remain relevant in a changing industry.
While there were 23 running backs selected in the three-day, seven-round extravaganza in Chicago, only four were fullbacks. That’s barely half as many as 2007, when seven were taken. Of the 2007 class, two, Reagan Mauia and Nate Ilaoa, were from UH.
These days you’re lucky to find fewer than 25 fullbacks spread across the regular-season active rosters of the 32-team NFL. Those who do manage to find a niche oftentimes have limited roles and formations.
And some of them, such as Washington’s Darrel Young, a former linebacker, are converted from other positions. Cincinnati, for example, has used defensive lineman Domata Peko there.
The few who are drafted these days are invariably selected in the second half of the draft. The last one to go above the fourth round was Jacob Hester in 2008. the highest to go this year was Alabama’s Jalston Fowler, the 108th overall selection to Tennessee.
Some of them, like Fowler, "could have been second- or third-round picks in the 1980s. Now you’re looking at fourth- or fifth-round picks," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. suggests.
"It is a dying breed," mourns Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden, recalling an era when the likes of Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, Earl Campbell, Larry Csonka and Franco Harris thundered across the tundra, frozen and otherwise.
Their declining numbers are testament to the evolution of more wide-open offenses and the three- and four-wide receiver sets employed. Their narrow role often confined to two-back sets, goal line, short yardage and running out the clock.
The Buccaneers and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter are apparently intrigued by Iosefa’s possibilities as a so-called "hybrid fullback." The "hybrid" model having the ability to run, block and catch passes coming out of the backfield, sometimes taking on the role of a tight end. And, of course, playing special teams.
Those who do manage to find the punishing work often get scant playing time and aren’t likely to stick around long, averaging less than four years of toil. For their labors, a 2013 Forbes study concludes only punters and long snappers average lower pay.
To claim a roster spot Iosefa will likely have to beat out two-year veteran Jorvorskie Lane, who played in nine games for the Bucs in 2014, touching the ball but four times. A fraction of his touches as a freshman at Texas A&M.
For Iosefa, it is an opportunity to place himself in increasingly rare company, that of the NFL fullback.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 529-4820.