Fullbacks were seen as a dying breed in the NFL a few years ago, but Kyle Juszczyk is doing his best to revive the position.
Juszczyk, a former fourth-round draft pick, began his professional career with the Baltimore Ravens. After spending four years with the franchise, he signed a four-year, $21 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers. At the time, it was the largest contract for a fullback in NFL history.
San Francisco was going through a rebuilding process when Juszczyk first signed that deal, but things have worked out very well since. The Harvard product has been used as a Swiss army knife in Kyle Shanahan’s offense and has been a true leader in the locker room.
In his first four seasons with the 49ers, Juszczyk had 102 receiving yards, 132 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns. Once his contract with the team expired, the two sides quickly hammered out a new deal that’s worth $27 million over the next five years.
It’s not very common to see a fullback make this much money over the course of their career, but there aren’t many players as versatile as Juszczyk. In fact, almost every other team in the league is now searching for their very own version of “Juice.”
We caught up with Kyle Juszczyk this week to discuss his incredible career, what’s in store for the 49ers this upcoming season and much more.
The Spun: How has this offseason been treating you?
Kyle Juszczyk: The offseason has been really great. I’ve always enjoyed my offseasons. It’s a time to get away from the game and recharge your body, both mentally and physically. I’m taking full advantage of that right now and gearing up for training camp.
The Spun: Fans weren’t sure if you’d end up elsewhere this offseason, but you ultimately signed a long-term deal. What was that whole decision process like the second time around?
KJ: It was a lot different the second go-around. It’s different being 25 years old and just finishing your rookie contract with so much ahead of you. At that time, I kinda knew for sure I wasn’t going back to Baltimore so I was open to everything. This time around, I wasn’t sure if I would be back in San Francisco, but I knew it was a major option and probably the most likely one. I had to do my due diligence and see what else was out there. At the end of the day, San Francisco is by far the best place for me. They came in with a phenomenal offer right before free agency and it was one I couldn’t say no to. It feels like home for me and I feel like we have a team ready to win now, so it was something I couldn’t walk away from.
So incredibly thankful to be apart of this organization for 5 more years! Thank you Faithful for the continuous support! Looking forward to showing that the juice is always worth the squeeze 🧃🧃 https://t.co/nLnZMfAUa3
— Kyle Juszczyk (@JuiceCheck44) March 15, 2021
The Spun: What makes Kyle Shanahan such a special coach?
KJ: His ability to manipulate the defense and put them in a position he wants them in – he’s just a master at that. It starts with the entire week of preparation and seeing how the defense reacts to certain personnel groupings. He’ll take that and use it early in the game to give the defense a look that he wants them to see us in. Then in the second half, he’ll present the same personnel group but we know exactly where they’re weak when they try to defend it. That’s how he creates mismatches.
The Spun: The 49ers made headlines when they drafted Trey Lance. What’s been your early impression of the rookie?
KJ: His natural ability definitely jumps out at you, and his size as well. He’s a big, strong athlete. You can see the natural ability and the arm strength. What really stood out to me is his willingness to learn. The few times I got to pick his brain, you can tell that he wanted to soak up anything a veteran could tell him. He’s so excited to have this opportunity and he’s taking full advantage of it. I’m really excited to see what he can do.
"Competition just breeds more success on the football field if you frame it the right way, and I know Jimmy will."
— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) June 24, 2021
The Spun: You’ve been around Jimmy Garoppolo for the past few years now. How is he handling this situation?
KJ: The team loves Jimmy and knows what type of winner he is. We’ve done it and we’ve been a quarter away from winning a Super Bowl with him. So we have a ton of respect for Jimmy and the way he’s handled this situation. It’s not easy when an organization gives up the draft capital that they did to go up and get a quarterback – we all know what’s going on there. But Jimmy has been a total professional and you can see how much work he’s put in during the offseason. I think this situation is going to be great for both Trey and Jimmy. I think they’re going to push each other. Jimmy is a great role model for Trey, and I think Trey will motivate Jimmy.
The Spun: I see reports around the league about teams searching for their own Kyle Juszczyk. I’m sure you’re too busy to pay attention to all of that, but what does that mean to you to have such a big impact on the fullback position?
KJ: It does mean a lot. It’s something that hit me a few years ago. One of my best friends, my Harvard quarterback, is a scout for the Cleveland Browns. He gave me a call after one of their scouting meetings because when they went through their player examples for each position, I was the No. 1 example for fullback. He said ‘I can’t tell you how weird that is knowing that you were my roommate and I played with you. Now, you’re the standard for what teams want from a fullback.’ Hearing that from someone who’s as close to me as he is, that’s when it really hit me. I realize how special of a run it’s been and how special it is to be the guy at fullback that everyone is trying to find another one of.
Kyle Juszczyk is the first FB to score a TD in a Super Bowl since Mike Alstott in Super Bowl XXXVII (2003). pic.twitter.com/73EIati3dr
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) February 3, 2020
The Spun: Your nickname, Juice, how’d that come about?
KJ: It was pretty simple to be honest. Back in college, I was in the tight ends group and when I introduced myself one of the seniors said ‘Your name doesn’t look like Juszczyk, so I’m going to call you Juice.’ I was like ‘That’s cool with me.’ It made it’s way to the NFL because my college coach, Tim Murphy, had John Harbaugh on his staff at Cincinnati. So when I went to my pre-draft visit to Baltimore, Harbaugh shook my hand and said ‘What’s going on, Juice?’ It just stuck from there.
The Spun: I have to ask you about your dog, Mozzarella. She’s become a fan favorite on Instagram. Do we think she can earn herself a spot in the 49ers backfield?
KJ: She definitely deserves one. She’s everything Kyle is looking for, can play a lot of positions and super smart. I run around with her a lot in the backyard. I like to think she’s got the best coach.
The Spun: You’ve used your platform to raise awareness for Crohn’s disease and other causes. Is that something really important to you?
KJ: At the end of the day, my job is to play football. But this job gives me a platform, so if I can take advantage of that to help raise awareness and help out those in need, I want to do that. Even if just a handful of people really hear my message, I still made an impact.
The Spun: Looking back at your career, has it been anything like you imagined?
KJ: It’s definitely gone in a very different direction from what I imagined. Honestly, I never really thought I’d be playing fullback in the NFL. I always wanted to play in the NFL, but I so badly wanted to be a wide receiver when I was a kid. Then I played tight end in college before eventually realizing fullback was the natural position for me. I really took it and ran with it because that was my opportunity to get in the NFL. I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve had coaches, like Kyle Shanahan and Gary Kubiak, who can recognize a unique skillset and take advantage of it. There are so many people out there who believe they have the same talent, but they never get the opportunity. I was lucky enough to showcase my skills and land with coaches who see value in what I’m able to do.
Happy 30th Birthday Kyle Juszczyk!
Players with at least 5 pro bowls and 10 total TDs since 2016:
Tyreek Hill pic.twitter.com/KxRBzJTYnZ
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) April 23, 2021
The Spun: We’ve seen you fill so many roles on the football field. What’s one thing you’d love to do that you haven’t yet?
KJ: I wouldn’t mind throwing a pass. You might have saw my tweet earlier in the season – I took a snap under center for a quarterback sneak and I said it was by far my favorite play in my NFL career. Growing up in middle school and early on in high school, I played quarterback. So if I just get that one opportunity to throw a pass [I’ll be happy], and believe me I’ve been in Kyle’s ear for five years now. Who knows, maybe this year will be my chance.
The Spun: Last year, the 49ers played without fans. How excited are you to play in front of the home crowd again?
KJ: I’m absolutely ecstatic. It’s crazy, my last memories of a real stadium and having the fans at Levi Stadium was the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. I can’t describe to you the energy, the buzz and what that did for us on the field. Having the fans there and being able to hear them throughout the game just absolutely motivates you and drives you, so I can’t wait to get back to that.
More Juice 🧃💪
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) March 15, 2021
The 49ers proved in 2019 they can be legitimate Super Bowl contenders when they’re healthy.
With players like Juszczyk back in the fold for the 2021 season, there’s reason to believe that San Francisco could be a legitimate threat to win the NFC.
You can read more of The Spun’s interviews with athletes or media stars here.