The NFL fullback is a dying breed, which has led to the rise of the h-back.
That was good news for Ryan Hewitt during his first two season with the Bengals. However, his role diminished last season to the point he barely saw the field in several games. Is that a sign of his roster security fading heading into next season? Or, will the Bengals and now second-year offensive coordinator Ken Zampese figure out ways to better utilize the former Stanford stud in 2017?
Weight: 255 pounds
Hometown: Denver, CO
Experience: Fourth-year player
Hewitt is entering year two of a three-year extension signed in 2016, keeping him under contract with the Bengals through the 2019 season. He has a cap hit of $2,275,000 this season. If released, the Bengals will have a dead cap hit of $1,125,000, according to Spotrac.
Since being signed by the Bengals as an undrafted free agent out of Stanford in 2014, Hewitt has taken the Bengals’ fullback/h-back spot from being a revolving door to one of the more solidified roles on this team. In his rookie season, Hewitt paved the way for fellow rookie Jeremy Hill to have an incredible year. Hewitt even added 10 catches for 86 yards as he showed flashes of being a solid pass-catcher.
In fact, the Bengals would often line Hewitt up as a tight end, especially with Tyler Eifert missing almost all of 2014 with an elbow injury. Heading into the 2015 season, the Bengals thought they very well might have the NFL’s best fullback on their roster.
However, Hewitt’s role in the offense decreased as the passing game become more of a focal point in addition to Eifert being healthy. Hewitt was targeted less times, so his total receptions dropped from 10 to eight for 99 yards.
Making matters worse, Hewitt was hurt at the end of the season and missed the Week 17 home game against the Baltimore Ravens as well as the wild card matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, he still had a good year, making Pro Football Focus’ Pro Bowl roster.
The ensuing offseason saw the Bengals give Hewitt an extension through the 2019 season. But yet again, Hewitt’s role in the offense decreased as the Bengals used an h-back less. His snap counts have gone from 466 in 2014 (43.80% of offensive snaps) to 375 in 2015 (35.55%) and then to 220 last season (20.24%)
Unsurprisingly, the Bengals’ rushing offense went from sixth in 2014 to 13th in both 2015 and 2016. While there were other issues causing that slip, not having Hewitt on the field as an extra lead blocker helped lead to the decline.
This shows why the Bengals would be very wise to get Hewitt on the field more in 2017 and get these rushing numbers back up.
Hewitt’s roster spot is all but locked up. He’d need to have a catastrophic injury to not make the roster, especially with his dead cap hit of more than one million dollars, if released. However, if his role continues to be minimized, Hewitt’s roster spot could be in jeopardy in 2018. But, that’s a conversation for another day. For now, we’re hoping Hewitt will have an increased and positive role on the Bengals’ roster in 2017.
Odds: 90 percent.