Every year, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell takes a look at which players in the NFL are being paid at a premium. Barnwell also looks at players who have three years or more left on their contract, how much they are taking home in cash during that time, and adjusting for positional value. After that, Barnwell compares each of the top 20 deals at each position to determine the biggest outlier at each position.
Who was the top player on the list? San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who is being paid an incredible 132% above average for fullbacks:
Well, well, well. For the past three years, Juszczyk has led this list by a considerable margin. The gap between him and the rest of the pack has fallen after the Watt and Ham contracts were signed, but there’s still a huge space between the 49ers’ fullback and everyone else in the league. Over the past two seasons, I’ve made arguments that Juszczyk hasn’t lived up to the expectations the 49ers had when they made him the highest-paid fullback in the league by a significant margin. I can’t make those same arguments about 2019. Juszczyk was a productive player in a great offense
You can add only so much value with 1.4 touches per game, but Juszczyk was effective when the 49ers gave him the football. He also drew the most ridiculous pass interference penalty of the year while diving for a catch, which deserves points for hustling the referees. There was also evidence that the 49ers were a better offense when he was on the field. They ranked last in rushing DVOA in 2018, making it hard to argue that Juszczyk’s blocking was really making a significant difference, but they rose all the way to 12th this past season. The Athletic’s Ben Baldwin noted that the 49ers were the best offense in football in terms of expected points added (EPA) per play when both Juszczyk and George Kittle were on the field, and while the offense fell back toward the pack when Juszczyk was out there without the star tight end, they were actually better with only him than they were with only Kittle. Football Outsiders’ Aaron Schatz pointed out that San Francisco’s rushing attack fell off dramatically by DVOA over its six-week stretch without Kittle and/or Juszczyk, only to become the best attack in football after they both returned.
I would not have expected to see the 49ers as tops in the league with Juice and Kittle on the field, but that speaks to Juszczyk’s versatility and all of the different areas he can help your offense. Barnwell asked the question of how much of this is due to Juszczyk’s skill set and how much of it is due to Kyle Shanahan, which is a fair question. Juice can be an effective receiver while we acknowledge defenses aren’t throwing their best player against him when Juszczyk motions out as a receiver. The threat of being a competent receiver is more than enough.
With Juszczyk entering the final year of his deal, it’ll be interesting to see how the 49ers choose to allocate the money currently used on Juice, who is undoubtedly the best fullback in the NFL, but he’s still a fullback. I bring that up as when Juice was signed in 2017; San Francisco didn’t have the same Super Bowl contending expectations. Next year, they’ll be looking to either extend, re-sign, or sign several key players. Will Juszczyk be back in 2021?