With all due respect to fullbacks, there are no little boys who dream of becoming the next Jerome Felton.
Not even Jerome Felton dreamed of becoming Jerome Felton, reigning NFL All-Pro fullback.
“I played soccer until fifth grade,” the second-year Vikings player said Monday. “I thought I’d give it a try in sixth grade. From that moment, I was telling everybody that I was going to the NFL.”
Even as a little kid, Felton was a big kid. But good luck finding anyone in Madisonville, Tenn., who remembers him saying the words “NFL fullback.”
“My favorite player was Jerome Bettis,” Felton said. “That’s who I wanted to be.”
And that’s who he resembled through high school and as Furman’s career scoring leader.
“I was the big back who moved the chains,” Felton said. “That was the role I pictured myself having in the NFL. It hasn’t quite turned out that way, but I’m making the best of it.”
Felton wasn’t complaining. He not only accepts his role, he embraces it. And if you don’t believe it, go back and watch the Vikings’ 23-20 overtime victory over the Bears on Sunday.
Even without the benefit of film review, it was obvious Felton stood out at a position that rarely stands out. To those who make their living breaking down NFL film, Felton had 38 of the best snaps a fullback can string together in one game.
ProFootballFocus.com gave Felton a grade of plus-6.8. The only fullback to earn a higher grade from PFF came in 2009 when Miami’s Lousaka Polite posted a plus-7.1 against the Jets.
“Felton consistently demolished safeties and linebackers alike,” PFF wrote. “You’ll struggle to find such a dominant performance from a running back/fullback combination as this.”
According to PFF, Adrian Peterson gained 112 of his 211 yards before making contact with a Bears defender. Obviously, Felton, who was a pivotal part of Peterson’s 2,097-yard MVP season a year ago, was a key part of that.
“I had asked Jerome in pregame, ‘Do you feel like you’re ready? A lot’s going to be on your shoulders today,’ ” coach Leslie Frazier said. “He said, ‘Coach, I’m bringing all my tools to the game today. I’m not leaving anything in the toolshed.’ I shared that with our team before the game, that everybody needed to have that same attitude and that same approach. He played a heck of a game.”
The Vikings figured they could outmuscle a Bears defense missing six starters. And when you’re looking for extra muscle at the point of attack, it helps having a 6-foot, 248-pound All-Pro fullback with deceptively quick feet and a love for his job.
“You know, you hear a lot about how the fullback is a dying breed,” Felton said. “But look at teams that are successful this year. The 49ers, they use the fullback a lot. Seattle uses the fullback a lot. Even Indy is using the fullback a lot. The Saints use one. A good fullback is a favorable position to have.”
‘Just follow me’
There were two core play calls that Felton used to stand out on Sunday. The first is called “37 Power.” Ask Bears safety Craig Steltz how hard Felton hits on that one.
The other is “38 Club G Boss.” Depending on the defensive front, the right guard or right tackle pulls right. Felton has to read the lineman’s block quickly and then make the corresponding block to seal inside or kick outside.
“Sunday, it was [right tackle] Phil [Loadholt] pulling,” Felton said. “We were really on the same page. I’d look at him in the huddle and say, ‘It’s time to get it going again.’ ”
The play was working well enough that they called “Toss 38 Club G Boss” for receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who was lined up behind Felton in the I-formation. Patterson took a toss right; followed Felton, who sealed middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic inside; and scored from 33 yards out.
“I didn’t know we had that play in for Cordarrelle until I looked back one time in practice and said, ‘What are you doing back there?’ ” Felton said. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, man. Just block.’ I said, ‘All right, just follow me to the promised land.’ ”
The promised land isn’t a destination for fullbacks. In fact, in 26 games with the Vikings, Felton has touched the ball nine times from scrimmage. Of those nine, how many have been carries, Jerome?
“None,” he said. “Unless you count the Pro Bowl [four carries, 18 yards, one touchdown] last year. But I’m always lobbying.”
Happy to block
NFL players typically get Tuesdays off. Like most Vikings players, Felton goes to the facility to lift weights that day. He also makes a point to visit the offensive coaches room for some good-natured lobbying as the game plan is being put together.
“I’ll poke my head in,” Felton said. “Then I’ll say, ‘You got anything for me this week?’ ”
Two weeks ago in Seattle, coaches actually did having something for him. He was going to carry the ball, but the play came with a kill option if the defensive front wasn’t deemed favorable.
“Christian killed out of it to another play,” Felton said. “That was when we fumbled. Guys have joked with me that I missed my chance. But that’s OK. I’m happy with what I’m doing and, frankly, I wouldn’t take the ball out Adrian’s hands to give it to me, either.”