EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Jerome Felton recalls telling friends in the past that he believed he was the best fullback in the NFL.
Being a part-time starter in three years with the Detroit Lions and bouncing between two teams in 2011, his friends were realistic with him.
“They would say, ‘You can’t say that,'” Felton remembers.
Now, after a breakthrough season for the Minnesota Vikings in which he plowed the path for Adrian Peterson’s 2,097 rushing yards, Felton earned his first Pro Bowl berth and was named second-team All-Pro. He joked with his friends recently with more support in his favor.
“I always told them, “I think I’m the best fullback in this league,'” Felton said earlier this month as the players departed for the season. “I’ve got a little more credibility now so. It feels good, I’m excited about (going to the Pro Bowl) and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Felton’s recognition came because of his blocking. Felton, 26, didn’t carry the ball once. He had only three catches. But Felton led the way for the best season of Peterson’s career, often blowing up linebackers leading to many of Peterson’s biggest runs.
Recognition could come in a new way for Felton now that the season is over. Felton will reach unrestricted free agency in March. Felton would like to return, feeling he’s found a home. Felton said the Vikings have expressed interest in retaining him. A month into the offseason, Felton is still waiting to see if an agreement will be reached.
“I have to be patient, which is hard because obviously I’m anxious about it,” Felton said. “But I’ve got to try and be as patient as I can be and just let it play out.”
Felton has made sure his agent and general manager Rick Spielman understand his desire to return. Felton met with Spielman after the season and now he’s left to wait for the team and his agent to work out a possible deal.
“They said they’ll be aggressive in trying to get something done and I hope that’s what comes to be,” Felton said of his meeting with Spielman. “I guess you never know how it’s going to play out. This is my first real opportunity to hit the free agency like I wanted to. But I want to be here, so hopefully it works out.”
Spielman said many of his talks with agents will likely come in February at the annual scouting combine, and Felton will likely be a focus.
“We’ll look to get an extension done with him because of the type of season that we had,” Spielman said.
Felton came to Minnesota unheralded after a trying 2011 season split between the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts. But the Vikings always had their eye on him. They tried to grab him off waivers last year, but missed out in the process. Then last offseason, Felton wasn’t even the first fullback-type Minnesota signed. Before agreeing with Felton to a one-year, $700,000 contract, the Vikings had signed Lex Hilliard, a hybrid running back / fullback that had experience playing specials teams.
Felton came in later, won the starting fullback job and Hilliard was later released. There’s been no looking back for the Vikings, or Felton.
“I’ve worked really hard and have been in some tough spots before this year,” Felton said. “I think when you have a guy like Adrian [Peterson] you know they’re going to run the ball. That’s not going to change here, they’re built on that. I’ve been on teams where the promise was to run the ball and things like that, but in reality that’s not what it was. Just to be in a place where you know that was going to be, we were built on our foundation. I felt like I could succeed in this offense. They gave me an opportunity and I just wanted to take full advantage of it and I think I was able to do that. Like I said, I’m not satisfied. I think my best football is ahead of me. I think this team’s best football is ahead of us.”
Peterson believes Felton’s proven himself and doesn’t believe he needs to do any lobbying on behalf of his fullback.
“I don’t think I have to put a good word in,” Peterson said. “He’s a Pro Bowler. Obviously he helped us pick up the running game and he did an outstanding job, so I think he put his own stamp on it.”
Now Felton is ready to put his signature on a new contract and have more reasons to show his friends why he thinks he’s the best fullback in the NFL.