Fullback Danny Vitale tries to muscle his way into bigger role in Packers' offense

Ryan Wood
Packers News
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Fifth in a series on the Packers' unrestricted free agents and their likelihood of remaining with the team.

GREEN BAY - Danny Vitale had good reason to question his future with the Green Bay Packers at the start of last offseason.

Vitale was signed to the active roster from the practice squad late in the 2018 season. He played only 19 snaps in five games under former coach Mike McCarthy, who mostly phased out the position from his offense late in his tenure.

Vitale didn’t know what to expect going forward, until he got a phone call from new Packers coach Matt LaFleur. During their conversation, LaFleur informed Vitale he had dug into his past film, especially what he’d shown in the passing game.

“I was like, ‘OK, this is a big opportunity for me,’” Vitale said during the season. “If he’s taking the time to look back at stuff from college and know what I was capable of back then, especially in the pass game, I have an opportunity to have a pretty special season.”

Vitale indeed emerged as a significant part of LaFleur’s new offense last season. His 170 snaps were only 15% of the overall pie, but the 6-foot, 239-pound Vitale showed athleticism as a receiver out of the backfield, especially in two-running-back sets.

Fullback Danny Vitale (45) runs with the ball during Green Bay Packers training camp at Ray Nitschke Field Friday, July 26, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis.

Early in the season, Vitale had a trio of 20-yard receptions from 21 personnel. On one, running back Aaron Jones stayed in to pass block, showing how LaFleur could use his fullback creatively.

Now, Vitale again faces uncertainty in his future. But as he prepares to enter free agency this spring, he can be confident both in the role a fullback has in the Packers' offense, and his production when given the opportunity.

Age next season: 27.

Initially acquired: Signed to practice squad as free agent Oct. 22, 2018.

Stats: 7 catches, 97 yards.

Argument for: It became apparent from the start of training camp last year that LaFleur was going to use the fullback position. In Vitale, he found a capable lead blocker — he is appropriately referred to as “The Muscle Man” around the locker room — who has the necessary athleticism to be a threat in the passing game. Vitale is young enough to receive a multiple-year deal, but he also has a wealth of experience entering his fifth season, having played his first two years with the Cleveland Browns. LaFleur has said the fullback allows him to dictate matchups within the offense, and Vitale’s combination of strength and agility fits what the coach wants from the position.

Argument against: As always, money is a factor. A source familiar with the running back market said Vitale’s price could approach $2 million annually. If that doesn’t seem like much, remember Vitale only played 15 percent of snaps last season. (He was paid $675,000 last season.) Even with his special-teams value, as well as LaFleur’s insistence on using the fullback, it’s still a niche role. If the Packers pay Vitale $2 million annually, he would be the NFL’s third-highest-paid fullback. Only San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk ($5.250 million annually), the league’s preeminent fullback by a wide margin, and Buffalo’s Patrick DiMarco ($2.1 million annually) are paid more. Given their salary-cap restraints, the Packers could believe they’re able to get similar production for much less financial investment.

Quotables: “I’m really excited about Danny because I think he’s done an excellent job in both the run game and as an element out of the backfield as a receiver. So, again, another great guy that brings it every day, and he also adds a lot of value to our special teams. So really excited to have Danny.” – Matt LaFleur

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