When the NFL Draft is winding down, teams are purely looking to fill roster spots with unique talents and skill-sets. Usually these athletes have several desirable or outstanding traits but may be lacking in other areas. For the athletes themselves, this point in the draft becomes interesting because if not selected, they will have to enter as an undrafted rookie free agent and field calls from prospective teams. That’s often considered a better option than getting drafted late, as an UDFA has more control over where he’ll go and can look for a team that appears to be a better fit.
Kyle Fuller entered the draft as a three-year starting center coming out of Baylor University. Although Baylor is not known for producing the nation’s best offensive linemen due to their fast-paced system, Fuller’s size and measurables gave the Texans enough confidence to draft him with the 243rd pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. His exact height and weight are exceptional for a center; coming in at 6’5 and 315 pounds, he should be able to hold his own against any formidable defensive tackle.
At first, this seemed to be a curious and peculiar pick for the Texans, as they already had Greg Mancz, who started all of last year (2016) as then-rookie center Nick Martin sat out the season with an ankle injury. Martin was projected to start the season as the starting center and Mancz was expected to be the backup. Having three centers on the roster at one time is quite excessive, considering how few available roster spots there are. Fuller does have experience playing all across the offensive line, and that versatility is something that Bill O’Brien craves in his offensive lineman.
As the starting center at Baylor, Fuller was tasked with standing his ground for at most three seconds since the offensive system tries to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand as fast as possible. This style of play created some bad habits in his blocking play. For Fuller and the rest of the Baylor line, a “stalemate” is considered a victory since they only need to block for a few seconds. Explosive blocking was not necessary, as the scheme attempts to exhaust the opposing defensive line with a blurring pace of play. Therefore, Fuller’s draft analysis and player reviews reflected the schemes that fit him perfectly in college.
What Bill O’Brien and the draft team saw in Fuller is a sizable and versatile interior lineman who can be molded into a rotational player and potential starter in the future. With Xavier Su’a-Filo and Jeff Allen ominously starting at both guards, there was no immediate need to rush Fuller into a starting role.
Week One of the regular season did not see Kyle Fuller suit up for the Texans. In a bloodbath against the Jacksonville Jaguars that unleashed “Sacksonville” (employs barf bag to contain displeasure), it became evident that the Texans were not fit up front to stop any type of pass rush.
Week Two was the entrance of Kyle Fuller. With fellow rookie Deshaun Watson at the helm at quarterback, the young and agile QB needed all the blocking he could get. Rookie offensive linemen Fuller and Julie’n Davenport were tasked with playing in unbalanced line sets featuring two tackles to create a wall around Watson in order to stop the pass rush. Fuller played 21% of the snaps in his first NFL game and held his own in the season’s first victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Fuller played sparingly over the next two games. He was mostly featured on special teams and came in at guard late in the game in a blowout against the Titans.
Like many other Texans, Kyle Fuller suffered an injury that knocked him out for a large chunk of the season. He injured his hamstring; that was reported on October 6th after the Titans game.
He reentered the lineup in Week Ten against the Cardinals and played purely on special teams. The last three weeks of the season featured him in rotational roles at guard with injuries piling up across the board. The Texans’ patchwork offensive line needed him more than he was ready to fill the role, but he did a better job than Jeff Allen for most of the plays I watched. I was impressed with his improved foot speed and work on combination blocks. He did struggle to move interior defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage, but his poor mistakes were not as glaring as many others on the offensive line. I do not know if that is a compliment... but with how embarrassing the line was for the last three games of the season, I can say that it’s something to be semi-encouraged about.
Where he can improve: Fluidity and explosion. He must take the next step this offseason to not be unseated by probably the largest influx of offensive line change in franchise history. The Texans should bring in about three to four new faces this offseason, and if Fuller wants to stay on the roster, he must prove that he can not only handle but beat opposing defensive lineman. He has to get that big body moving, which may require him to get his weight closer to 305 pounds and add muscle. Aggression at the point of attack is something that he can also work on. He has huge arms that can keep a defender at a distance, so he must learn how to punch and stick to his man in blocking.
What the future has in store: Right now it’s difficult to say since free agency and the draft process have yet to begun. If the Texans keep Su’a-Filo or Allen (PLEASE DO NOT), Fuller should be safe on the roster and potentially grab more playing time than his rookie season. If the Texans draft two early offensive linemen, bring two more in during free agency, and Fuller does not take the necessary steps, I could see him being placed on the practice squad. The Texans need Fuller to develop into a stud guard. It would save them a ton of money and be a great story for a local kid.