Football Outsiders has published another set of formation analysis numbers, and these are numbers that quite surprise me: the Bucs were much more effective running the ball without a fullback, than they were with a fullback. When the Bucs just had a running back in the backfield, their rushing efficiency ranked 5th in the league. That's excellent. What's not so excellent was how efficient the Bucs were when they had a fullback on the field: they ranked 28th in the league, with a rushing efficiency of -21.5%. That's horrible. What's even worse, the Bucs had a fullback on the field on 63% of all plays, which ranks in the top half of the league.
So, why does this happen? My first thought was that perhaps one of the running backs was over-represented in one of these datasets. Surprisingly, that's not actually the case. In single-back formations, Legarrette Blount carried the ball 69 times, while Cadillac Williams carried it 58 times. While Blount has more carries in that formation than Williams, the same is true for 2-back formations: Blount had 137 carries out of that formation, while Williams had just 70. If anything, Blount dominates the two-back formation.
So why, then, this discrepancy? Part of it is undoubtedly that the Bucs used Earnest Graham and Erik Lorig as fullbacks last year. Graham is a scrappy player, but he's also small and more of a running back than a fullback. Lorig has more potential as a fullback, but he was a rookie last season who was drafted as a defensive end and made the conversion to fullback during the season.
One thing probably did play a role, and that was Blount's inexperience in running behind a fullback. In college, he did not run behind a fullback. Instead, he was in a single-back offense that tried to stretch the field. Without a fullback, it was likely easier for him to see the field clearly and make the right decision. But, the reason for this failure to run the ball out of two-back sets may not be important. What's important is that the Bucs failed, and that they need to start reducing the amount of two-back sets they run.
From a game-planning standpoint, I prefer to have an extra tight end or receiver in the game instead of a fullback, and I think the drafting of Luke Stocker proves that that's what the Bucs want to do. A tight end on the end of the line gives a running back a clearer vision of the field, and can be a very effective way to clear the way as well. Besides that, a tight end can be much more valuable in the passing game, giving an offense more flexibility from the same formation.
Still, fullbacks are a staple of many power-running offenses, and the Bucs will continue to use a fullback at times. It looks like Erik Lorig will take over that role from Earnest Graham, who gets to concentrate on his third-down duties instead. But don't expect the Bucs to run as many two-back formations the upcoming season. Not only were they ineffective running the ball from that formation, it gives them less flexibility in the passing game.
Unfortunately, Luke Stocker is currently injured. If that injury lingers, the Bucs may be forced to go back to a two-back dominated running game.