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Sophomore Jump or Sophomore Slump: Kyle Fuller

The 243rd pick in the 2017 NFL Draft had to step up late in the season to help out a dismantled line.

Woof. Man, do the Rockets know how to scare an entire city and make me stay up late to finish this article. Have to admit, when the GSW took a 12-point lead to start the 3rd quarter, I thought the entire series and season were put in a barrel and thrown off a waterfall. Thankfully, the Rockets’ resilience is far superior than my expectations were for this series.

ANYWAYS, For a player who only played 8.3% of the offensive snaps in his first season, Kyle Fuller is a versatile offensive lineman who will look to build upon his limited role. Hailing from Abilene, Fuller played at center while attending Baylor. He is a long, sturdy, and experienced player who fit the prototypical offensive guard traits that Rick Smith desired, rather than the traits Smith looked for in a center (see Nick Martin, Ben Jones, and Chris Myers). With Nick Martin securing the center position, and Greg Mancz locking down the backup role, Fuller had to find other ways to make the roster and contribute to the team. His versatility was a vital part of the Texans selecting him in the draft and getting on the field during the season.

Fuller sprung into action as a blocking tight end to secure the edge against defenses who tried to exploit the Texans offensive line. Along with Chris Clark and Julie’n Davenport, he worked into the lineup with injuries on the offensive line started mounting. The last three games of the season featured Fuller growing and developing into the wing back/tight end role he had to play to protect the QB. Especially against the Pittsburgh defense in Week 16, Fuller played well on the offensive line even when surrounded by the total beat down delivered by the Steelers.

The Sophomore Slump will be in effect for the offensive lineman for several reason. One being that the Texans have brought in three offensive lineman in free agency, one in the draft, and three undrafted offensive line free agents were signed.

Teams usually keep nine or ten offensive lineman on the 53 man roster. At a glance, Nick Martin, Julie’n Davenport, Zack Fulton, Martinas Rankin, Senio Kelemente, Sentrel Henderson, Kendall Lamm, and Greg Mancz (and Jeff Allen if he returns to the team) look to be the ones ahead of Fuller on roster today. This makes Fuller the last guy in, but puts him in a dangerous position to continually fight off the undrafted rookie free agent prospects during training camp.

Another reason will be his lack of athleticism to compete at an NFL level. Although he has an ideal body type, he struggled to drive defensive lineman off the spot. It does not help that he struggled with hamstring issues throughout the season. On an offensive line scorecard, drawing even with the defender is considered a loss. In a zone scheme, not being able to manipulate your defender puts them at the advantage. This is a bad habit he developed from his time at Baylor where the “Stalemate” was the art of winning football.

His role as a blocking tight end could still be intact, as the Texans refused to acquire a tight end who can block as well as catch the football. Both Jordan Akins and Jordan Thomas qualify as pass catching tight ends rather than edge setting blockers. If the Texans want to use an unbalanced line, they could easily stick with Fuller rather for his experience, but they could also use Senio Kelemente or Sentrel Henderson as their extra offensive lineman. Brian Gaine invested significant salary space to see these players in Texans uniforms, so I doubt he would advise choosing Fuller over these players in many game day decisions.

The opportunities to take the field this season may not be as prevalent as last season. Hopefully the Texans offensive line will improve across the board, which could mean less packages requiring a blocking tight end. When he did take the field, he did not let up a single sack on his 89 snaps. That is definitely a reassuring statistic considering how porous the Texans line was at times. Not being able to fight off the likes of Chad Slade for a starting spot does late in the 2017 season does not bode well for his chances to make the roster with all these new additions.

In an effort to increase offensive line continuity, I don’t think the Texans will be rotating their players as much. Hopefully this is because the O-line is healthy and playing well, but Bill O’Brien looks to install a fast-paced scheme that may not require as lengthy of protection as past seasons. If Fuller can secure a roster spot this offseason, he will make for a reassuring backup offensive guard, unbalanced line, and goal line blocking option for the Texans next season. Fuller’s slump will result in less playing time than he was seeing at the end of the 2017 season and as a as-needed contributor.