Chiefs Are Comfortable Despite Lack of a True Fullback

If there’s one thing that Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is known for outside of his innovative mindset on offense, it’s keeping a fullback on the roster. That’s been a constant throughout his multiple tenures as an NFL head coach, although those days appear to be coming to an end this coming season.

Recently appearing on the New Heights podcast with Travis and Jason Kelce, Reid spoke about the current state of the fullback position and described it as something “different” that’s being “eased out of the game.” Naturally, that sparked some speculation that the 65-year-old head coach could also be moving away from all he’s known for over two decades. 

At the conclusion of Kansas City’s first session of organized team activities (OTAs) for the offseason, Reid was asked about the team’s lack of a true fullback on the roster. Earlier this spring, veteran Michael Burton departed for another AFC West club — the Denver Broncos — in free agency. Without Burton in the fold, the Chiefs have opted against filling that void. According to Reid, the tight end room could be relied upon to fulfill the Burton role in 2023. 

“Yeah so the tight ends can work into that spot,” Reid said. “We know Noah (Gray) can do all of that and that’s kind of where we went with it. We’ve got a number of tight ends that we feel comfortable with so maybe you keep an extra tight end as opposed to that fullback.”

When Burton logged two touches and helped pick up a key conversion in a Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Chargers last season, only 14 teams had a fullback on the roster. It’s a position that is undoubtedly a dying breed in the modern game, especially with more of a reliance on shotgun sets or empty formations on offense. Additionally, tight ends that can move around and offer some versatility are counted on to pick up some of the slack left by the absence of a traditional fullback. The position simply isn’t needed nearly as much as it used to be. 

With the blocking ability of Blake Bell and the versatility and athletic profile of Gray, the Chiefs feel as if they can get by without a player like Burton moving forward. That could be entirely true, and it could also be a decision that Reid made alongside new offensive coordinator Matt Nagy. The NFL landscape is ever-changing and for Kansas City to use a roster spot on a fullback, it would partially limit what the team can do elsewhere in the event of injuries. Reid alluded to the injury bug as well, which is a reason why the team currently has so many tight ends.

“We normally don’t have the number of tight ends that we’ve got here,” Reid said. “I would go back, I mean, that’s not a problem. We liked what we had last year with it but again, we were always – without the injuries we were going to have to juggle that last year somehow. Guys got banged up.”

In addition to Gray and Bell, the duo of Travis Kelce and Jody Fortson provides the Chiefs with a pair of more natural tight ends. Kelce is a top-10 receiving threat in the entire league, and Fortson offers some intrigue in the red zone and is decent depth to carry throughout the regular season and into the playoffs. For Kansas City to once again roster someone like Burton, who played just 6% of the team’s offensive snaps in 2022 after logging an 8% clip the year before, it just doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

Without a fullback, the Chiefs can still have a full complement of plays at their disposal without sacrificing any creativity. In fact, they might be gaining creativity by implementing tight ends like Gray or Bell into a pseudo-fullback role on occasion. Burton’s main value was on special teams but with plenty of other options there for Dave Toub to choose from, the value proposition wasn’t worth it. 

If Reid’s comments hold true, it’ll be the first time since he started head coaching back in 1999 that his team doesn’t have a fullback on the final roster. 

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