American Football

Fullbacks are disappearing— Does Jason Cabinda still have a role with the Lions?


Detroit Lions vs Buffalo Bills
Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Will the Lions join the ranks of teams shedding the position, or will Cabinda’s special teams play keep him around?

This past month has seen the running back position face an existential crisis, spurred on by the onset of contract woes for some of the NFL’s biggest names. It’s a dangerous woe and has further reaching implications than the purpose of this preview.

While the halfback may find itself in trouble, the fullback position has been on life support for a while. 19 fullbacks took offensive snaps in 2022; only 8 played more than 150 snaps. This offseason, as teams sit around the 90-man expanded roster limit, only 26 fullbacks on 21 teams are signed; this number will be reduced after cuts. The standouts at the position are fewer and fewer, highlighted by Kyle Jusczczyk and Patrick Ricard, on teams who prioritize run-heavy offenses.

The Lions have long found a use for fullback Jason Cabinda, utilizing the converted linebacker on special teams and in the “superback” role. However, after a rough injury and a larger and larger group of offensive playmakers, it will be a tough road to see Cabinda make the final Lions roster.

Previous roster previews: Aidan Hutchinson, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, Kerby Joseph, James Mitchell, Malcolm Rodriguez, James Houston, Chase Lucas, Obinna Eze, Greg Bell, Penei Sewell, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Derrick Barnes, Jermar Jefferson, Brock Wright, Jerry Jacobs, Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, David Montgomery, Graham Glasgow, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Marvin Jones Jr., Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Christian Covington, Craig Reynolds, Isaiah Buggs, John Cominsky, Alex Anzalone and Jared Goff.

Jason Cabinda

Expectations for 2022

Cabinda signed a new contract with the Detroit Lions in February of 2022, but it wouldn’t be until nearly the end of the year until he saw time with the squad.

Following the 2021 season, Cabinda was diagnosed with bone spurs in both ankles. Although removing bone spurs shouldn’t have been an issue, complications arose from the procedure and forced him into a second surgery with a lengthier time to recover. He entered 2022 on the PUP list, and expectations upon his return was limited to special teams play.

Actual role in 2022

8 games (2 starts): 105 snaps (93 on special teams)

Stats: 1 receptions, 5 passing yards, 4 rushing yards

PFF offensive grade: 48.5

PFF rushing grade: 61.0

PFF receiving grade: 39.5

PFF run blocking grade: 58.3

Cabinda made his return against the Bears in Week 10, and played the remainder of the season except for Week 16 against the Panthers, where he was sidelined by illness.

While there was hope that Cabinda’s return would help shore off the struggling run game for the Lions, it wasn’t to be so. His offensive use was muted (one handoff and three targets) and the majority of Cabinda’s play came on special teams coverage.

Outlook for 2023

The strength of Cabinda has always been his versatility, a swiss army knife of different roles he can take on.

“Going into every game, I’m prepared to play fullback, I’m prepared to play H (back), I’m prepared to play tight end,” Cabinda said in a previous interview with us. “But then I’m a smart guy. I handle my business, I study and ask questions and make sure I’m up to date with everything. It’s really just focus. That’s really all it is, staying disciplined.”

At this point, there’s nobody on the Lions roster that can’t do what Cabinda can do already. Tight end James Mitchell took H-back snaps in college, and the expanded roles of other tight ends and halfbacks make it clear the Lions are taking a wide look at flexible roles for their roster depth at those positions.

This leaves Cabinda’s primary upside to make the roster coming from his special teams play. Being a converted defensive player, he has and will take snaps both on returns and coverage. Cabinda remains a high energy element in the locker room, and his attitude has been praised by Lions coaches through the Dan Campbell regime.

The proverbial Sword of Damocles hanging over Cabinda’s head is cap numbers. If Cabinda is cut before the 2023 season, the Lions will only see $500,000 in dead cap, resulting in $2.065 million in savings. Should they find special teams contributions from other players, he could become a casualty of football finances.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login