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Cowboys FB Hunter Luepke’s job may be more secure than you think

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By: Jess Haynie

Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Fullback Hunter Luepke may already have a secure place on the Cowboys’ 2024 roster

Fullback Hunter Luepke may not feel like a safe bet to make the Cowboys’ roster in 2024. But compared to other Dallas fullbacks from recent years, Luepke actually saw equal. if not greater. playing time on offense and special teams. With second-season development, Luepke may be a safer bet to make the team again than many would project.

An undrafted rookie last year, Luepke earned his way onto Dallas’ 53-man roster and played in every game. Because he appeared more on special teams than offense, the fullback didn’t generate much buzz during the regular season. In fact, a fumbled goal-line carry against the Miami Dolphins was unfortunately his most memorable moment. But despite the lack of production, Luepke was on the field enough that he may already have a carved-out role for this season.

Luepke quietly appeared on 13% of Dallas’ offensive snaps and on 61% of the special teams plays. While that offensive number sounds low and replaceable, consider that past fullbacks like Keith Smith and Jamize Olawale, who were lead blockers for Ezekiel Elliott from 2016-2019, never played more than 11-13% of the offensive snaps themselves. In fact, Luepke’s 153 total snaps at fullback were more in a single season than Smith or Olawale ever had.

Older Cowboys fans tend to have a skewed perspective on the fullback position. We so miss the days of Daryl “Moose” Johnston leading the way for Emmitt Smith, and the Moose standard looms overhead for anyone who dares try to fill that spot now. But in the three decades since those nostalgic memories, the position has moved close to being obsolete in the NFL. A guy like San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk, who appears on nearly half of their offensive plays, is a rare throwback to a bygone era.

Still, even with less overall value, a good fullback can make a real difference in short-yardage situations. The lead blocker out of the backfield can do a lot to help the RB punch through the trenches, and if he has some ball skills himself can throw defenses for a loop as a surprise carrier or receiving target. They can also be dangerous on play-action from anywhere on the field.

Even before Luepke, the Cowboys have been exploring FB options since Mike McCarthy became coach. In 2022 it was veteran free agent Ryan Nall, who didn’t make the team. They gave a pair of prospects a shot at it in 2021 with Nick Ralston and Sewo Olonilua, but that competition had no winner. Even if not ever intended to be a major part of the offense, McCarthy has consistently seemed to want that wrinkle to some extent.

Luepke didn’t get many chances to show his offensive skills as a rookie. He only had six carries and three catches all season, and a third of those touches came in a single surge of usage against Miami. When the Cowboys offense was on the field, Luepke was either on the sideline or getting limited run as a blocker.

Special teams is where Luepke saw the most time in 2023. That 61% of snaps put him among the team leaders, fourth highest overall, and means he stayed busy both on coverage and return units. Given his small offensive role, he must have been valued by John Fassel to have stuck on the roster all year and activated each week.

As we’ve seen from C.J. Goodwin’s continued one-year contracts as one of Fassel’s favorite guys, special teams matter. Even with no real role on defense, Goodwin keeps coming back for his work on the third side of the ball. So even if Luepke doesn’t develop into more of an offensive factor, he could stick around on that part of his game alone.

With all of the new faces at running back, and especially with Ezekiel Elliott’s return as a short-yardage specialist, Hunter Luepke has sometimes been talked about like a roster cut just waiting to happen. But if he just provider the same occasional lead-blocking duties and special teams work as last year, it’s enough to keep his spot. Hopefully, if he does return, Luepke can improve on his versatility and catch opposing defenses by surprise in 2024.

Originally posted on Blogging The Boys