There are a few positions in the NFL that have lost value over the years. Running backs and linebackers immediately come to mind, but neither have been completely washed out of the game quite like fullbacks. In today’s NFL, the best fullbacks are essentially H-backs; lining up all over the formation and having similar roles to tight ends.
Once upon a time, the Eagles had the best fullback in the game. Some may even argue that he was the last pure fullback and that he helped bridge the gap between old school fullbacks and the ones we see now. Leonard Weaver played one full season for the Eagles back in 2009 and he played a pivotal role in one Andy Reid’s last great offensive seasons in Philly.
The team signed Weaver to a one-year, $1.75M contract during the 2009 offseason. Prior to Weaver’s arrival, the Eagles infamously struggled in short yardage situations.
In 2008, the Eagles faced the Chicago Bears in an early season primetime matchup. Without Brian Westbrook, they had to rely on Correll Buckhalter to carry the load. Late in the fourth quarter, down by four, the Eagles found themselves at Chicago’s one yard line. Just a one yard plunge into the end zone and the Eagles would have likely left Soldier Field with a W. Four straight runs from inside the Bears’ five yard line — three to Buckhalter, one to running back turned fullback Tony Hunt — netted three yards. No score. Eagles lose.
Struggling in short yardage situations became a theme for the Eagles that season. So, insert Weaver. A 6-foot, 250 pounds runner with nimble feet and rare athleticism for man of his size. It didn’t take long before Weaver became a fan favorite. With Westbrook sidelined for most of the year due to concussion issues and rookie LeSean McCoy still finding his footing as an NFL back, Weaver was a huge factor in the Birds’ rushing attack.
He had several iconic plays throughout the 2009 campaign. I still remember this play against the Giants like it was yesterday:
If you remember, this was a huge mid-season NFC East matchup. Philly entered a half-game back of the division lead, which was held by New York. Weaver’s touchdown set the tone for this Giants beat down, as the Eagles shredded New York to the tune of 40-17.
Remember how I said he bridged the gap between old and new school fullbacks? It was because of plays like this:
Weaver was an elite receiver out of the backfield. For a fullback, that was unheard of at the time.
He finished the year 463 yards from scrimmage and 4 total touchdowns. For reference, the consensus No. 1 fullback in today’s game, San Francisco’s Kyle Juszczyk, has never eclipsed 400 yards from scrimmage and he’s only scored 4 touchdowns in a season twice in his nine-year career.
Weaver’s efforts in 2009 earned him first team All-Pro honors and a trip to the Pro Bowl. The Eagles also handed him a new three-year, $11M deal with $6.5M guaranteed, making him the highest paid fullback in NFL history at the time.
2010 was a transitional year for the Eagles. Donovan McNabb was no longer the man under center and Westbrook had left to join San Fran during the offseason. Shady was primed to be the lead back, but Weaver was still going to be a key to the Birds rushing attack.
Just one carry into his 2010 campaign, Weaver’s season was over. The injury is gruesome, so I won’t include any pictures of it here. You’re on the internet right now, so, go search it up if you really want to see it.
The initial prognosis was a severely torn ACL, but we later found out that he did irreversible damage to the nerves surrounding his knee. His posterolateral corner was completely torn and the muscle around his knee was all torn up. He would miss the rest of the season and underwent three separate surgeries on the knee, along with going through an extensive physical therapy process.
A year later, Weaver still hadn’t recovered fully. At a team physical, he literally couldn’t lift his foot off the ground. In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time, Weaver talked about his failed physical exam, stating, “I failed. My foot didn’t work.” All Weaver was asked to do for his physical was to flex his foot and bend his toes up towards his knee. He couldn’t do it.
At that point, it was clear that Weaver’s playing career was coming to an end. The Eagles released the fullback in 2011 and he never played another snap in the NFL after that. He returned in 2013, signing a one-day contract to officially retire as a Philadelphia Eagle.
Weaver’s lasting legacy
Leonard Weaver is one of the most interesting ‘What If?’ scenarios of my lifetime. Sure, he played a devalued position, but what he contributed to the Eagles offense in 2009 was invaluable.
He wore many hats during that one year. He was the team’s short yardage back, he was a reliable receiver out of the backfield, he was a great pass protector on third down, and he even broke off the occasional big play.
Weaver was the type of do-it-all player that Philly fans embrace. Never complained, never asked for more touches. He earned those touches and he always made the most out of them. He was such a unique player and it was a treat to watch him do what he did, even if it was for only one year.
Without Weaver, who knows what the fullback position would look like in today’s NFL. Maybe there wouldn’t even be a fullback position. He still run blocked and created holes like Lorenzo Neal, while possessing the running/catching ability of a Kyle Juszczyk.
We’ll never see another quite like Weaver. At the end of the day, maybe that’s a good thing. As Eagles fans, we can brag about having one of the most unique fullbacks in NFL history on our team.
Is that a good brag? Well, it is for me. And that’s all that matters.
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