Dallas Cowboys Free Agency: The Impact of Lawrence Vickers

The most fun to be had during the free agent signing period comes while envisioning the impact each new face will have on the team. If left to one's own devices, its not impossible to become entirely certain that your new DH (that's designated holder, for the field goal unit) will ensure a 100% Field Goal conversion rate, which in turn causes the quarterback to avoid turnovers (maximizing field goal opportunities) and the defense to play inspired (allowing a victory on field goals), ensuring a Super Bowl championship.

Unfortunately, the Cowboys have yet to realize the value of the DH, so such a situation will not come to fruition. We can, however, anticipate the impact of the players the Cowboys have signed.

Lawrence Vickers

This is the dream signing no one expected. We all recall how much impact Tony Fiammetta had on our running game. Would it surprise you to hear that Fiammetta received an overall grade of -7.6 and, more importantly, a -5.3 in run blocking from PFF? Believe it or not, fullback was a position that Dallas could upgrade considerably in free agency. And upgrade they did. Although PFF only gave him a rating of -0.7 on the season, Vickers was the highest rated UFA under age 30 (while Fiammetta was last overall).

Of course, we can't rely on PFF for everything, so after the break we'll consider other aspects of his game.

There's a popular myth floating around that Vickers is a pure blocking fullback. But, wait, think on this. Jason Garrett wanted a one-dimensional back? No way--there's more to the story. Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer interviewed Vickers when it became apparent he would not be re-signed by the Browns in 2011.

[Browns Head Coach Pat] Shurmur has said that every back in his offense needs to be able to catch the ball. If Shurmur and his staff determined that Vickers was not a good fit in their offense, Vickers said they made a mistake.
...
"I am a West Coast fullback. That's what they don't understand," he said. He said he became typecast as a "knockout fullback" the past two years because that's how he earned playing time. "I was on a team where they don't even use a fullback," he said of the Browns' offense under former coach Eric Mangini. "Mangini's era wasn't really a fullback era. I played just on [the belief that] 'this person has to be on the field.' Everything I got wasn't given. I took it. Our offense was based on New England's. They don't even have a fullback."

This isn't to say that Vickers isn't a blocking fullback, either. Rather, he's a very well-balanced football player who's been asked to play a specialized role (Anthony Spencer comes to mind). I also invite you to search YouTube for some highlights and interviews (the first video has a looong introduction, so skip to 0:45 if you're so inclined). So he can block, and he can catch, but he doesn't stop there. Fred Greetham, in a report published on Scout.com, had this to say about Vickers:

One of the common denominators of the play last week of Josh Cribbs and Jerome Harrison combining for 614 all-purpose yards was Lawrence Vickers. The 6-0, 250 pound fourth year fullback from Colorado is a key blocker on kickoff returns and the lead blocker for the running backs on offense.


"To me, it's about always blocking the right person," Vickers said. "I'm always running as if the ball is in my hands and look for the block that springs the back."
...
His pancake block on Cribbs' first return was key and his seal block sprung Harrison on his 71-yard touchdown run.
...
"Each year, I'm trying to get better," Vickers said."A lot of fullbacks block, but I want to be a dominant blocker."
...
"I'm always working on my technique and trying to get better."

I wonder if Garrett was watching this interview; those quotations look like a sales pitch directed at the red-headed RKG-seeker. Vickers' durability is also noteworthy, especially considering that he's replacing a player, in Fiammetta, who has missed 16 games in three seasons, or 1-in-3 games. In 6 NFL seasons, Vickers has only missed six games (1-in-16, or more than five times less likely to miss time). When you consider the Dallas rushing YPC with and without a fullback, injury becomes a major concern.

As for special teams blocking, Vickers helped Josh Cribbs to manage seven kick return TDs in his five seasons with the Browns (he did not have a KRTD last season, with Vickers gone). As for the Texans, for whom Vickers played last season, their kick return average improved from 19.8 yards/return in 2010 to 25.2 in 2011 (impressive, considering that two of the Texans top three returners are safeties). Look for Vickers to make an immediate impact on special teams. Fiammetta, in contrast, helped the Panthers to return averages of 19.9 and 21.9 yards per game, from 2009-10, and did little to help Dallas' return game this past season.

In the running game, Vickers' impact is also readily apparent. Behind Vontae Leach (whom many consider to be an elite fullback), in 2010, Arian Foster ran for 4.9 YPC. Ben Tate, Foster's backup, ran for 5.4 YPC behind Vickers the next season. From 2010 to 2011, the Cowboys' and Texans' respective running games changed as follows: Cowboys--4.2 to 4.4 YPC; Texans--4.8 to 5.1 YPC. Remember that the Cowboys were moving on from the blocking prodigy known as someone-other-than-Gronkowski, while the Texans former fullback was potentially the best in the league. I predict Felix will once again average over five YPC in 2012, and I'll tally seven YPC for DeMarco. I'm not one for predictions, by the way, but Vickers has me convinced.

Neither Fiammetta nor Vickers has been overly impressive in the receiving game, and the low volume of data results in a difficult comparison. The more experienced Vickers, however, has 45 career receptions, including 3 TDs and 3 receptions for 20+ yards. It does not appear that the Cowboys have found a versatile receiver in Vickers, but nonetheless he is far from a one-trick Cowboy.

As a final note, look for the addition of Vickers to slightly (and almost unconsciously) reduce the Cowboys' need at 3rd wide receiver and 2nd tight end, as those three positions, including fullback, typically compete with each other for snaps offensively.

How do you think Vickers will impact the Dallas Cowboys?

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