Danny Vitale finished his Northwestern run with 1,456 yards from scrimmage. He lent a hand for 135 catches and six carries. And under the title of “superback,” the eventual NFL Scouting Combine invite scored 11 touchdowns.
It’s a past Vitale brings with him to the New England Patriots.
“It was just like an H-back, a ‘move’ tight end,” Vitale told reporters during his introductory video conference on Thursday. “Northwestern, back when I was there, didn’t use a true hand-in-the-dirt tight end. I played a lot of times in the slot, on the wing, fullback when we used it, and played a lot of receiver basically, as well.”
The position’s range helped keep Vitale on the field from his freshman season onward.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected the 6-foot, 239-pound Wildcats product in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. Stops with the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers followed.
“I kind of had to learn how to play as a different type of fullback in different types of offenses over the last couple years,” added Vitale. “Jumped around a little bit. When I was in Tampa Bay, I was more of a tight end, wing-type player. And then in Cleveland, kind of a hand-on-the-ground, bruising-type fullback. And then in my time in Green Bay, I did a little bit of both. I was kind of all over the field.”
Vitale has spent time on a pair of practice squads and appeared in 44 games.
He agreed to terms with the Patriots on a one-year contract worth $1.3 million in March.
The 26-year-old now accompanies Jakob Johnson on a fullback depth chart no longer led by former Pro Bowler James Develin, who announced his retirement last month after a tenure that spanned 97 contests and three Super Bowl victories.
“It’s definitely some pretty dang big shoes to fill,” said Vitale. “James is a hell of a player. I’ve enjoyed watching him really since I got in the league. He was really a role model at the position, which as a fullback, a lot of people don’t typically notice how important that role can be. I think it was pretty clear how important James really was to this Patriot team over the last however many years.”
Vitale caught a career-high seven passes for 97 yards with Green Bay this past season. Against the Philadelphia Eagles in September, the well-traveled fullback handled the first rushing attempt of his NFL career.
“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned about my style over the last couple years is being able to be versatile,” Vitale said.