The Kansas City Chiefs did not make a roster move to add a fullback after Michael Burton signed with the Denver Broncos this offseason.
That’s by design, Chiefs coach Andy Reid says, as the team plans to do something different with that position in 2023.
“The tight ends can work into that spot,” Reid said Wednesday following his team’s OTAs practice. “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.”
It’s certainly a change from Reid’s previous way of doing things.
The Chiefs coach has had a fullback on the roster in each of his previous 10 seasons in Kansas City; Anthony Sherman was with the team from 2013-20, then Burton took over the role in 2021 and 2022.
Reid, however, hinted the Chiefs might try something different this year. Talking with Jason and Travis Kelce on their “New Heights” podcast, Reid said “the fullback has kind of been eased out of the game a little bit.”
A league-wide rule change this week probably only deepened that sentiment. NFL owners approved an alteration Tuesday that will allow a kickoff returner to fair catch the ball anywhere inside his team’s 25-yard line; when he does so, the ball will be given to the receiving team at its own 25.
The domino effect means a change for special teams — and personnel. There will likely be fewer kickoff returns in the NFL because of the modification, and because of that, players like fullbacks might not carry as much special-teams value as they previously did.
Reid said Wednesday that he wasn’t writing off having a fullback again in future seasons. He said, though, that the Chiefs face a specific roster challenge this year.
“We normally don’t have the number of tight ends that we’ve got here,” Reid said. “I would go back (to having a fullback). 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 (tight-end rotation) last year somehow. Guys got banged up.”
KC shuffled things constantly last year with four tight ends. Blake Bell initially went on injured reserve after hurting his hip in the preseason, then returned to the active roster in December when Jody Fortson went out with an elbow ailment.
The Chiefs briefly had four tight ends at the end of the playoffs when Fortson returned to the lineup; Bell was a game-day inactive for Super Bowl, while Travis Kelce, Gray and Fortson played in KC’s 38-35 victory over the Eagles.
Moving away from a fullback should give the Chiefs extra roster flexibility when they get down to their initial 53-man squad in August. Last season, KC kept three quarterbacks, five running backs (including the fullback, Burton), four tight ends, five receivers and nine offensive linemen on that season-opening roster. If the Chiefs keep 3-4 running backs this year, they can potentially add back another receiver or two (or defender), assuming their 53-man tight ends group remains at four.
Gray has some previous experience playing in the backfield. During his college career, Duke played him some at fullback, where he was utilized on different snaps as a run-blocker and a receiver.
Kendall Blanton and Matt Bushman also are part of the Chiefs’ six-man tight ends room on their current roster.