One of the Dallas Cowboys’ undrafted free agents in 2023 is fullback Hunter Luepke from North Dakota State. He is the latest in a line of attempts to bring a true FB back to the offense; will Luepke finally be the one to make it work?
Luepke finished his run with the Bison as the top fullback prospect in the 2023 draft class. He was a three-time First-Team All-Conference player from 2020-2022 and a two-time FCS National Championship winner with his team. Luepke had 619 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on just 98 carries last year, plus another 196 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver.
Scouting reports on Luepke glow with his athletic potential and abilities as a runner and receiver out of the backfield. Some even see him lining up as a small tight end in certain packages. The biggest concern is his consistency as a lead blocker, but that may not be as big a factor in the modern NFL as in the past.
Dallas hasn’t carried a true fullback since Jamize Olawale in 2019. Before him was a long line of fullbacks like Keith Smith, Tyler Clutts, Lawrence Vickers, Richie Anderson, and others. It was a regular part of the Cowboys’ offensive system spanning different coaching regimes.
Of course, our love of the fullback in Dallas goes back to Daryl “Moose” Johnston. He was the gold standard for the position in the 90s and a beloved member of the Cowboys’ last dynasty. But even though the game has transitioned away from what made Johnston such a vital piece, or guys like John Riggins and Tom Rathman before him, you still have fullbacks like the 49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk who can make a significant impact.
The recent absence of a true FB in Dallas may have had something to do with Kellen Moore, who has been the offensive coordinator since 2019. But even under Moore, the Cowboys have flirted with prospects like Sewo Olonilua and Nick Ralston in recent training camps. They even signed a veteran in Ryan Nall last season but he missed camp with a shoulder injury and wound up being released. These efforts would indicate interest in having a fullback hasn't gone away but only if they find the right guy.
With Moore’s departure to the Los Angeles Chargers, head coach Mike McCarthy is now taking a stronger hold on the Cowboys’ offense. This will certainly lead to some schematic and philosophical changes, which was why McCarthy and Moore could no longer cohabitate in Dallas. Could McCarthy make an even stronger push to restore the fullback position?
The fullback has always been an important figure in the West Coast scheme and McCarthy’s offenses with the Green Bay Packers didn’t shy away from them. John Kuhn was a household name during his Packers days and it was only when Aaron Ripkowski failed to adequately replace him that McCarthy started to do less with the position.
McCarthy’s West Coast roots, the same which made Rathman a significant figure in San Francisco, would suggest that he has a deeper appreciation for fullbacks than some other coaches. It manifested in Green Bay with Kuhn and could find its way back into the Cowboys’ offense now that Moore is gone.
One reason Luepke might have a better shot at making the roster than previous FB experiments is his proven ability with the ball in his hands. The Cowboys RB depth chart has taken a hit after Ezekiel Elliott’s release and perhaps Luepke could help in short-yardage situations when a bigger, stronger back than Tony Pollard is needed.
The keyword you see consistently in scouting Luepke is versatility, which is critical to success as a fullback in the modern NFL. Can he slide up into a TE spot on passing downs, or be the single back while Pollard moves up into the slot? That’s the kind of chess piece that McCarthy will love working with.
Sure, part of our desire to see another standout fullback in Dallas is tied to a player who’s been gone for over 20 years. But Moose aside, adding a new wrinkle that opposing defenses don’t usually see is never a bad thing. Hunter Luepke has a chance to be a special kind of NFL player and hopefully that makes the Cowboys offense even more dangerous in 2023.