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Kyle Juszczyk film breakdown: Is the 49ers’ new fullback a good receiver?

We take a look at some of the best pass plays of Kyle Juszczyk’s time with the Baltimore Ravens.

When the San Francisco 49ers signed fullback Kyle Juszczyk to the richest contract for any player at the position in the league, the rhetoric was that he had to be fulfilling a role in the passing game to be worth that money. San Francisco isn’t going to pay him north of $5 million per season just to block for Carlos Hyde, after all.

There were those saying Juszczyk can be a more in-between player and that he compared well to Delanie Walker. Measurements from the NFL Scouting Combine were brought up and compared, and the conversation quickly painted him as a potential lethal weapon in the passing game.

Thus far, I don’t there’s any basis for that being the case. More specifically, I don’t see him comparing to Walker so much as I see him comparing more to Vance McDonald and Bruce Miller, but with better hands. He’s bulky, he runs hard after the catch and he bruises.

I watched a few hours of tape on him, specifically in the passing game, and everything of substance comes out of the backfield. Now certainly, that can change under Kyle Shanahan, who is certainly building “his” offense at this point. I don’t think it’s a bad signing, but I think the rhetoric on his receiving ability took off well before anybody actually stopped to look at what was going on.

That said, I do like the signing and I am excited to see if, given a chance, Juszczyk can evolve into an effective receiving threat. Below, I’m going to go over a few gifs I made from a couple of his most productive passing games.

They go to him a lot on third downs — a lot. I haven’t crunched the full numbers but a disproportionate number of plays I recall were on third down. And unfortunately, some of his biggest gains came on third-and-long where opposing defenses were giving up yards intentionally.

The play above is one of those examples, though it is also an example of his hard running style and his ability to follow his blockers when needed. He didn’t pick up the first down, but he picked up a massive chunk of yardage to help the Ravens get out of a field position jam.

Sometimes, he does get the first down, but most of the time he doesn’t. Here, he’s looking back at the right time and Joe Flacco delivers a terrible pass. But Juszczyk handles it and bulldozes his way a couple yards for the first down. If that pass had led him better, he might have gone right through the guys and picked up a couple more yards.

Again, more designed players where Juszczyk is coming out of the backfield, turning to catch a short pass and then rumbling forward. He’s good with the rumbling, but I don’t see any Walker in the way he catches, runs or takes contact so I’m really not sure where the comparisons came from.

Juszczyk pushes off the linebacker who is supposed to cover him and he’s immediately in a soft zone in the defense. This might be my favorite play with him. The rest of the guys on the field are completely covered and fail to get open, but Juszczyk pushes through the guy who is trying to force him out of his route and then rumbles into the red zone. It’s good stuff.

This one was included to show that he doesn’t have a tendency to rush at unneeded contact like a lot of fullbacks or bulky tight ends do. The linebacker who is nearest him when he catches that pass is right next to him, and many guys in Juszczyk’s position would greet that contact and try to push through it rather than run past it. But he does run past it, and picks up some good yardage because of it.

Oh, also he goes for it and can make some good catches. You’d have to, with Ryan Mallett and Joe Flacco throwing you passes ... and whoever is throwing to him in San Francisco, of course.

Of course, it’s worth noting that all the plays above are positive plays and some of the best. The fact of the matter is that he has been used sparingly over the past two seasons, though he’s seen his role grow and is the perfect candidate for someone who really could improve with more looks.

Not every play with him was like this. He had a whole lot of 2- and 3-yard gains, though many of those were by design. He didn’t chip opposing defenses for 10-plus yards with regularity, but these gifs are here to illustrate what it looks like when he does.

Again, the Walker comparisons just don’t make sense as far as I’m concerned. I do think, with what we’ve seen, the 49ers are overpaying a good player. But if that’s Shanahan’s game and he thinks he can make Juszczyk into something more than he’s been thus far, it will be worth it.