The man they call Hammer is starting to get attention.
Three nationally known Vikings have fared the best in Pro Bowl fan voting. Danielle Hunter is first among NFC defensive ends, Harrison Smith second among safeties and Adam Thielen third among receivers.
Fullback C.J. Ham is fourth among NFC fullbacks with less than a week before fan voting ends Thursday.
“Really?” Ham said. “Huh, that’s funny.”
It’d be Ham’s first Pro Bowl should he get enough votes from fans, coaches and players to leapfrog San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk for the NFC’s top — and only — spot for a fullback on the roster. Even if Ham falls short, the Duluth Denfeld High School graduate is well on his way toward making a name for himself in his third NFL season.
Ham’s humble approach is fitting for a fullback, but his name sparks adoration and meat-based puns across social media sites such as Twitter after one of his limited touches on offense, which include 11 catches for 85 yards.
“I feel the love,” Ham said. “People are saying my name, saying good job and stuff like that. It’s not what I’m looking for. My wife is the one who brings everything to my attention most of the time because I’m pretty oblivious to it. But it’s nice to know fans out there are voting for me. You know, hopefully, I do make it.”
Stoking the fanfare is the Vikings’ desire to find roles for him. Ham, an undrafted running back from Augustana (S.D.), is the type of versatile fullback the modern NFL demands. He’s seventh among NFL fullbacks in offensive snaps (109), despite just three teams running the ball less than the Vikings. So he needs to be ready for anything, and has not struggled much graduating from Division II football to a professional playbook.
“I kind of try to surprise him each day on the script,” coordinator John DeFilippo said earlier this season. “Putting him somewhere else to see if I can catch him without him preparing, and I never do.”
What teammates notice is the dirty work — such as blocks that high draft picks might shy away from. Ham is second on the Vikings with 226 special teams snaps, trailing only linebacker Ben Gedeon (252).
“The things he does for this team don’t always stand out to the common eye,” running back Latavius Murray said. “Or to people not in the building every day working with him, practicing with him.”
Vikings fans still have taken notice. When he gets the ball, Ham looks like a back who got 570 carries and caught 96 passes in college. He lined up in the slot on second-and-6 in New England, catching a 5-yard pass to help the Vikings later convert a manageable third down. At 235 pounds, Ham dragged a Patriots safety an extra yard or two.
“His blocking, that’s where it starts, but when he gets the ball in his hands as well, he’s a playmaker,” Murray said.
The Vikings have sent two fullbacks to the Pro Bowl, Tony Richardson in 2007 and Jerome Felton in 2012. The job has since changed for players at Ham’s position. No longer are fullbacks lead blocking 20 times a game.
But those versatile enough, as Ham is proving, have shown there’s still room for them in a modern NFL offense.
“Just trying to go out there and not give them a reason to take me off the field,” Ham said.