49ers’ Kyle Juszczyk proving to be more than just a fullback
MIAMI — The fullback position in the NFL was supposed to be dead. If not dead, on life support and near extinction.
The 49ers and Kyle Juszczyk apparently didn’t get the memo.
Feel free to call Juszczyk whatever you choose — fullback, tight end, H-back, running back, receiver, hybrid.
He’s listed on the official roster as a fullback. But he’s so much more. Juszczyk is the 49ers’ Swiss Army knife who very well might be an X factor against the Chiefs in Super Bowl 2020 on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
Juszczyk has potential to be the chess piece 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan uses to checkmate the Chiefs and bring the Lombardi Trophy back to San Francisco for the first time since 1994.
“He’s listed as a fullback, but he plays receiver, tight end, running back, everything, so having a guy like that makes it difficult on defenses and makes us tough to defend,’’ 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said Tuesday.
“Kyle never puts a lid on my container,’’ Juszczyk said of his innovative head coach. “He’s not scared to line me up anywhere — runs, routes, blocking any position on the defense. Really, it’s his belief in me and not limiting me to anything.’’
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Shanahan and Juszczyk are a simpatico couple. Both are brilliant — Shanahan the son of a successful NFL head coach and Juszczyk a Harvard graduate.
Shanahan and general manager John Lynch were smart to recognize what they could do with Juszczyk when they signed him to a four-year, $21 million free-agent contract in 2017 — numbers that were eye-popping to many around the league because, after all, he’s only a fullback.
Having Juszczyk on the team has allowed Shanahan to display his offensive genius with the way he uses him in disguised formations, sets and motions.
To get a proper understanding of just how difficult Juszczyk’s presence makes the 49ers offense to defend with its constant misdirection and multiplicity, The Post went to San Francisco defensive players to explain.
“Juce is in his own world — he’s a rare guy to have to have, an X factor,’’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said.
“He’s one of the biggest weapons we have on offense, and that’s funny to say considering how many weapons we do have,’’ linebacker Fred Warner said. “What he allows Kyle [Shanahan] to do with the play-calling and being able to use different formations and personnel groupings is amazing. He does it all. It’s hard to think of anyone who’s doing it as well as he is.’’
When Dee Ford, now a 49ers defensive end, was playing with the Chiefs last season, he recalled encountering Juszczyk in the Week 3 meeting, won by Kansas City, 38-27.
“I went up against him last year, and that was a problem,’’ Ford said. “Kyle knew every single rule [player assignment on the Chiefs]. That’s sort of his approach to how he attacks defenses. When you have a coach or a player that can dissect and know what you have to do, that’s a very scary thing to play against.’’
Veteran left tackle Joe Staley marveled at not only Juszczyk’s rare versatility, but how smart he is.
“Juce is unbelievable — not only the blocking, but the overall understanding and knowledge of the offense, because we do so much pre-snap motions and reads and different formations,’’ he said. “He has a complete understanding of what we do offensively. Without him and his knowledge, it would be kind of hard to run our offense. He does everything really, really well, and is very deceptive with what he does. His little nuances with the game that people don’t notice really affects how a defense tries to attack us.’’
Because of how effectively the 49ers have run the ball in their two playoff wins, Juszczyk has not run or caught a ball in the postseason, instead just being asked to block. That makes Super Bowl LIV ripe for Shanahan to call a few offensive plays for him as a form of surprise attack.
The fullback position is seemingly being phased out. On the Associated Press’ annual All-Pro team this year, for example, it doesn’t even recognize the position. In the place of fullback is something called “flex.’’
Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey was recognized as both the All-Pro running back and “flex.’’
“It’s a little annoying, to be honest, as a fullback to see that disrespect,’’ Juszczyk said. “But hopefully, we’ll see that come back around. People like to say the fullback position is dead.’’
Well, if you’ve paid any attention to the 49ers on their ride to Miami and Super Bowl LIV, it ain’t dead yet.
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