One of the more interesting picks of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was their final one. With the second of its two selections in the sixth round, the Buccaneers chose fullback Dan Vitale out of Northwestern. While many late round draft picks start the season on practice squads, Vitale could be an exception.
Tampa Bay is one of the teams in the NFL that still utilizes two-back sets with a tailback and a fullback. With Jorvorskie Lane not being re-signed, Tampa Bay is in need for a fullback. Vitale wanted to be a Buccaneer. On Saturday, he got his wish.
“I’d like to say I kind of knew, but honestly, I was just waiting for my name the whole day (laughing),” Vitale said. “To be honest with you, I kind of hoped it was Tampa Bay, and that’s who it ended up being. I kind of built a relationship with some of the people on this staff, not only through the workout, but Senior Bowl, combine, and then even for our bowl game in Tampa as well. So I’m happy that I ended up there.”
This was not a throw-away pick for the Buccaneers. During the season, the Buccaneers used both Lane and tight end Luke Stocker as an H-back, fullback capacity.
While, the club will likely use Stocker in the same role this season, Vitale can play the H-back role as well. While at Northwestern, Vitale played a position known as “superback.” In fact, it is his versatility the Buccaneers really like.
“Yeah, we got a guy – he’s actually kind of a slash player because there’s so few fullbacks how we want to use them, so Dan is kind of a slash, they call it an H-back,” said Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter. “We’re going to use him as part fullback, part tight end, and excited to see what he looks like.”
Vitale is 6-foot-1 and 239 pounds. He only had six carries in his career, but he was a bigger impact. Vitale caught 135 passes for 1,427 yard and 11 touchdowns for the Wildcats. He also was the lead blocker for Northwestern’s run game.
“Vitale (is a) tough, Chicago kid playing fullback,” said Tampa Bay General Manager Jason Licht. “He’s been productive there, particularly as a receiver at Northwestern. (He’s) smart. We like him.
“He can catch the ball; he’s played tight end,” Licht said. “He’s kind of a hybrid guy, where he can do that and I know he’s going to be a really good special teamer, and that’s hard to find – a fullback that can play special teams.”
But fullback is a valuable position for the Buccaneers. Last year, Tampa Bay had the fifth-leading rushing offense in the NFL averaging 135.1 behind Doug Martin, who finished second in the league in rushing and Charles Sims. Lane played nearly a fifth of all the offensive snaps. Vitale feels he can help.
“I think it’s a great fit; I think I’ll be able to do a lot for the team, which I’m excited about,” Vitale said. “That’s what I did in college: I played a little bit of slot, a little bit of tight end, a little bit of fullback. So I think an H-back is kind of what I’m looking at, and I’m excited to contribute.
“I would definitely say my athleticism is my biggest asset, and the versatility as well,” he said. “But, at the same time, the reason I went to Northwestern – other than the great education – is Big 10 football. Hard-nosed football. So at the same time, I like to believe I’m a hard-nosed football player, and I’m excited to go do that out in Tampa.”