Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Dec 2006

Neal Once Carried the Load

Once upon a time, he was a promising young running back for the New Orleans Saints -- for 90 minutes. A broken ankle turned him into the greatest fullback of the last decade. This is the story of Lorenzo Neal.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 15 Dec 2006

35 comments, Last at 21 Dec 2006, 12:27am by Costa


by Yaxley (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 12:25am

Am I the only one who reads that blurb and hears it in the voice of Don LaFontaine, or whichever movie voiceover guy you prefer? Seriously, make this into a movie and it could be a summer blockbuster.

by ChrisFromNJ (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 12:26am

I've said it before, I'll say it again:

Neal's lead-blocking in the Charger's Week 3 shellacking of the Giants last year was the single most dominating individual performance I've ever seen in an NFL game, ever. *I* could have gotten 100 yards that game running behind him.

If the HoF is to ever consider adding a blocking fullback (and I wouldn't mind having a token representative at that position), I'd hope it's him.

by Yaxley (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 12:31am

Oh, and now that I've read the entire article, I just want to point out that if you've ever played Tecmo Super Bowl 3 for the SNES, Vaughn Dunbar is an amazing free agent RB. He only costs like 20 free agent points and you can run him all over defenses. Not to take away from Neal, who is truly worthy of recognition, but I thought I'd mention it.

by DavidK44 (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 1:00am

Here's the problem.

How do we know Neal is that good? Let's say he IS that good...was he better than Maurice Carthon (Giants FB in the 80s, I don't even know if he's considered one of the best since I'm biased as a Giant fan, but most articles on the topic have mentioned he was one of the better ones around then).

Is he a better blocking back than the other ones acknowledged...

And most importantly, is there any desire on the part of FO to try to develop a stat for FBs - or is that mostly just part of O-Line discussions and there's "bigger fish to fry" sort to speak?


by ChrisFromNJ (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 1:10am


There should be a way to create an FB/general lead blocking stat (and I'd love to see it), but it's going to need the results of the game charting project, methinks.

It would probably be something along the lines of DVOA/DPAR for all runs for which the fullback is engaged as a lead blocker, perhaps discounting yardage past a certain distance ala Adjusted Line Yards.

by Don M (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 1:31am

Yes, he's that good. Neal was a bengal, and he was awesome. In the way that Matt Suey and Frank Hawkins once were, I've never seen a harder headed or better lead blocker.

by RF (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 1:36am

MDS is my favorite active football writer. His FoxSports articles plus EPC are the highlights of my NFL reading week, and given the great content Outsiders provides, that's saying something.

by Don M (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 1:37am

Re:#4 That would be nice if it could be charted, these guys get even less credit than offensive linemen, and have a huge impact on the game. In offenses where the fullback is used a lot as a lead blocker (The Bengals Jeremi Johnson in this way a lot) this is a very important position, but the guys who get to the pro-bowl or get any national attention at this position are almost always big power running backs, or fullbacks who catch a lot passes out of the backfield, but a guy like Lorenzo Neal is very valuable.

by Independent George (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 3:12am


by Levente from Hungary (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 3:43am

Do I see it well, that in each and every of his fullback seasons his running back gained over 1,000 yards? And those were 5 different players!
Incredible! Even though those players did break the mark before and after his presence.

by Carlos (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 5:29am

Neal is and always has been a team player, a guy who did whatever it took to win games even if he didn't always get the credit he deserved...One night, when .. Bates refused to buy, Neal slugged him — breaking his jaw and putting him out of commission for four weeks.

No comment necessary.

When the Chargers make the super bowl, I'm fully expecting enough Neal-love stories to make me wanna puke.

by peachy (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 6:14am

Can we give a "most misleading use of ellipses award" to #11?

by Sam B (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 6:46am

This thread seems to deserve a Borat voice joke. I would supply one, but I don't know who Borat is.

Where is the Mul-Dawg when you need him?

by Duff Soviet Union (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 7:41am

#13, don't encourage him.

by RF (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 2:01pm


If the HoF is to ever consider adding a blocking fullback (and I wouldn’t mind having a token representative at that position), I’d hope it’s him.

Don't you get the feeling, from reading both King and Zimmerman, that they would consider any player, at any position? Maybe I'm being too zealous by including Zimmeramn in there, but King recently wrote that he thinks Tasker should be in the Hall of Fame based no his special teams coverage. If he applies the same logic to Neal (logic seeming to be performance above expectation from the task) then we could have a HoF fullback.

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 2:13pm

I was initially going to ignore comment 11, but I think it warrants a response.

As I see it, I could take the following approaches to Neal:
1. Ignore him.
2. Write about him only to bash him for the incident with Mario Bates.
3. Write about him with nothing but praise.
4. Write about him in a way that mentions the Bates incident but puts it in the proper context of an isolated incident in an otherwise honorable career.

I take it you think I should choose either 1 or 2. I disagree. I think Neal is one of the most important players on the best team in the league, and I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't write about that. Option 3 also would be wrong, though; If you're going to write about someone you should tell your readers about his faults. So I chose Option 4. You're free to disagree, but I stand by my column.

by Carlos (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 3:16pm

16 -

I think there's an option 4A, which is write the piece and avoid the unnecessary praise that he "is and always has been a team player." What I like so much about the FO content is that it typically avoids the hyperbole that seems to required of the mainstream sports coverage.

Option 4A -- putting the incident in context -- might have read something like: here's a great story arc, someone who looked like they'd be a superstar but then has a devastating injury, then acts like a Michael Westbrook-style a-hole and sucker punches a younger teammate, costing him a full quarter of his season, but then has this amazing 10+ career of quietly making other people look better. That avoids the claim that he has always been team-first.

I read your piece as choosing Option 4B, which was putting the incident in context -- I didn't even know the Bates story before reading your article -- but still making claims about Neal that weren't supported by the facts that you presented. The article (and praise for Neal) wouldn't have been weakened by avoiding the "is and alwas has been" -- it would be have been stronger.

Anyway, I enjoyed the article, and I sure like watching Neal block.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 4:39pm

re: 17

I agree about your general feeling. The thing is... MDS, in this case, IS the mainstream media. I mean... he's writing for FOX Sports Online...

I've noticed some of these changes within the FOX articles. Minor ones, for sure... but still, it loses a bit of the FO flavor. However, I think the guys have done a good job in balancing the different styles - EPC is still written as vintage FO.

In any event, it's nice to see an article about a blocking FB. I remember seeing a program about Neal (perhaps in ESPN? NFLN?) a while ago, relating this exact same story, and thinking "wow... this guy is the ultimate selfless, team-first guy". Didn't know about the Bates scuffle, though.

I just remembered - it was in NFLN, "Six days to Sunday". Whatever happened to that show?

by MdM (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 5:03pm

I like it. Anytime there is a piece and it's not about a QB, RB, or WR, or Parcells, why, that's just a good thing. Well done.

Is it just me, or has the NFL turned the corner into going back to a rushing league this year?

by Dave (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 5:17pm

I've been watching a lot of Lorenzo Neal since he signed with the Chargers, and he's an outstanding blocking back--certainly the best I've ever seen in this city.

However, I've never beeen very impressed with him when he has the ball. He's obviously powerful enough to bull through a lot of guys, but he doesn't typically do that. He's got mediorce feet and balance and seems easy to tackle for such a large, fast man.

He runs kind of like a scatback whose scat got up and left, and it turns out that's what he is.

by Jason Mulgrew aka The Mul Dawg aka J-Rocka (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 5:57pm

read in Borat voice,

re: 20

Yes, he runs funny like three-legged goat. Neal is real deal.

by Jason Mulgrew aka The Mul Dawg aka J-Rocka (not verified) :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 6:02pm

My old man says he doesn't think Neal would have ever been a great featured ball carrier. He said he thinks it worked out better for Neal in the end.

by Michael David Smith :: Sat, 12/16/2006 - 11:19pm

Re 17, that's fair. If I had it to do over again I'd probably take "and always has been" out. I sensed from your first comment that you were including this piece as one of the "Neal-love stories to make me wanna puke" and that's what I was responding to.

by Peremptor (not verified) :: Sun, 12/17/2006 - 12:22am

Good job MDS, for those readers who don't expect perfection that was a great read ;).

by Carlos (not verified) :: Sun, 12/17/2006 - 1:48am

23: sorry, I definitely did not mean this article was a Neal story in the vein that would make me puke!

That comment was a stupid, elliptical snark about the inevitable flood of coverage about whatever teams get to the Super Bowl -- and it was a particularly inapt remark, since we're still in the midst of the season, a long way from the SB.

Anyway, no offense intended. I really enjoy your work, and it takes guts to publish in an environment that allows basically anonymous feedback.

for those readers who don’t expect perfection that was a great read

this is a fair comment too. I used to hang around baseballthinkfactory, but I stopped b/c it too often felt like an echo chamber of snarks about how stupid the mainstream media is -- think TMQ threads times 1000. I'll try to cut back on my snark!

by Tom Caramore (not verified) :: Sun, 12/17/2006 - 2:11am

The fact that he was an NCAA tournament heavyweigh wrestler and is still active in martial arts in the offseason cements Lorenzo Neal as my choice for the NFL player I would least want to fight

by Tighthead (not verified) :: Sun, 12/17/2006 - 3:53am

26 - Disagree - that means he will get a quick, clean kill. Someone like Larry Allen would just make it messy and painful. Still, it really is a matter of personal preference!

by Pete C (not verified) :: Sun, 12/17/2006 - 1:36pm

One thing i did not see in the article, wasn't Neal involved in the famous "music city miracle" play?

by Thalwitzer (not verified) :: Sun, 12/17/2006 - 2:05pm

RE 28: Yes. Christie kicked off, and Neal received. Neal handed off to Frank Wycheck, who then threw a forward pass to Kevin Dyson, who then ran down the sidelines for a 75-yard touchdown, sending the Bills and all of Western New York into a downward spiral from which they have never recovered.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Mon, 12/18/2006 - 3:34pm

I was there for that 74 yard run (it was in Atlanta against the hated Falcons), and I was surprised at his speed.

I thought that letting Neal go was one of the many poor personnel decisions that the Saints made. There are currently three former Saints fullbacks in the NFL (Neal, Moran Norris, and Terrelle Smith), and all were released before the advent of Mike Karney, who was the real reason the Saints lost Sunday. Payton didn't call his number enough. :)

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Mon, 12/18/2006 - 3:49pm

Also, Mario Bates happens to be one of my least favorite Saints RBs of all time, and he probably deserved to have his jaw broken. That Mora nor anyone else disciplined Neal for the incident should tell you something.

by Gilbert (not verified) :: Mon, 12/18/2006 - 6:43pm

My favorite part about Neal is that given the opportunity of gaining a couple extra yards or turning to take a tackler head on, he always chooses the later. The Baltimore game this year is a great example when after catching a pass in the flat turned towards his tackler Hlati Ngata and proceeded to lay the hurt. Unfortunately Ngata weighs like 360 and Neal bounced off him like a jelly bean but gotta admire his courage or lack of intellegence whatever.

by Bjorn (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 5:50am

RE 28: Yes. Christie kicked off, and Neal received. Neal handed off to Frank Wycheck, who then threw a lateral to Kevin Dyson, who then ran down the sidelines for a 75-yard touchdown, sending the Bills and all of Western New York into a downward spiral from which they have never recovered.

I fixed comment #29. I've seen that footage more than 50 times, and that pass goes perfectly sideways.

by MarkV (not verified) :: Tue, 12/19/2006 - 10:35pm

wonderful article. I have always considered Neal to be a huge blemish to Tomlinson... not that LT isn't amazing, but that running behind Lorenzo Neal makes it so much easier.

by Costa (not verified) :: Thu, 12/21/2006 - 12:27am

Re 29: For the love of God, are there really still people griping over this? How many hundreds of times do they have to show replays that clearly show, by comparing the position of the ball on the throw and on the catch compared to the yardline, that it was a legal lateral before everyone moves on?