The Giants added some veteran depth in Zach Fulton, a seven-year veteran with over 6,000 career snaps and seven playoff starts to his name. The addition requires a film study into the player--what type of player are the Giants getting, and can he compete with Shane Lemieux and Will Hernandez for a starting spot?
Let’s get right into it, shall we?
(Zach Fulton is number 73, and he plays right guard.)
The Good: Run Blocking
Fulton executes solid patience here to allow the defensive linemen to take himself out of the play by going to Fulton’s outside shoulder.
Once that happens, Fulton sinks himself, lunges a bit (his technique isn’t always pretty), and uses good upper body strength to bully the Bengals’ defender vertically and horizontally.
He shows similar traits on this play as well. Here he keeps his elbows tight and uses his grip strength to win initially at the point of attack, something he struggles to do to pass protection.
Fulton is assisted in the deuce block with the tackle and then is able to hold on just long enough after the tackle climbs to the second level. The tackle’s strength comes up, but we can still see how strong Fulton is with his upper body strength when he finishes.
Fulton does a solid job in another deuce combo block (tackle & guard) situation, only this time it’s Fulton who is climbing to locate. Fulton takes solid angles to the linebackers and uses good timing when separating and transitioning with the tackle.
Above, he makes initial contact with his outside shoulder; he allows the tackle to take over the block fully, and then he transitions to the linebacker while sealing him away from the play-side.
Here he almost gets a free release to the linebacker, just sort of touches the defender on the line of scrimmage, which constitutes as a chip. Fulton gets up to the linebacker and knocks him to the ground. There’s no blocking upfront for Johnson, but the location ability of Fulton is solid here.
This run is right inside of Fulton’s block on linebacker Anthony Hitchens (No. 53). Fulton will win this strength battle all day, every day, but he also looks so much more confident in his movements here.
I wonder if that’s due to the lack of strength and size in his opponent? I also love how he uses his inside hand to latch, attack, and turn; we still must remember that this is a linebacker.
Jason Garrett called a much more diverse rushing attack than his predecessor Pat Shurmur, who mostly called inside zone with one single puller play he used with the backside guard pulling to the 5 and 6 holes.
Here are a few snaps of Fulton acting as the backside pulling guard, something he’s going to do if he starts for Jason Garrett.
He doesn’t have great athletic ability or movement skills, and, to be honest, he reminds me a bit of Will Hernandez when he’s pulling on these plays: he’s a bit boxy, has short choppy steps turning corners, his location skills are adequate at best.
It doesn’t always look great, and I’d argue that Shane Lemieux looks much better being the backside puller. Fulton doesn’t do too well on this play with his location, but he has shown the ability to execute this assignment well on other plays.
Here’s a double pulling play, similar to the base run play the Giants ran in 2020, only this is out of a two split running back shotgun set. Fulton is tasked to eliminate the unblocked end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOLOS), and he does a great job locating him and pinning him inside, as keep him from getting outside.
The defender tries to keep the rushing lane narrow, which he’s coached to do, but Fulton pins him so far inside that the defense's continuity is compromised, and there’s no possibility of a narrow rushing lane after Fulton paved the way.
Fulton kicked out again and pulled to locate the unblocked defender on the edge. He easily gets to the outside shoulder and turns his own body not to allow the defender easy access to separate and disengage, which would provide the defender an ability to make a play on the ball carrier.
Other players on the Texans didn’t block their assignments well, but Fulton pulled and located solidly.
Overall, I feel it’s best if Fulton is the frontside blocker on some of these power/gap concepts. He’s not very athletic while pulling, and it takes some time for his blocks to materialize; also, his location skills are adequate at best.
On the front side, he can use his solid play strength to pin 3-Techniques or help scoop 4i-Techniques at the point of attack, and he won’t have to be relied on to bucket step and quickly get out into space.
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The Great: Experience
Fulton’s 2020 tape was not great, you’ll see that in a bit, but he still provides value at a low cost. The entire Texans organization was a hot mess in 2020; they fired their head coach Bill O’Brien after four measly games, and the offense was inconsistent, despite the presence of a talented DeShaun Watson.
Fulton’s chemistry with the center Nick Martin and the right tackles that the Texans used seemed to never be in sync. He signed a 4-year, $28 million contract with $13 million guaranteed with the Texans at the beginning of the 2018 off-season, after having an exceptional rookie contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s still only 29-years-old.
This is a low-cost addition that will have little to no ramifications if Fulton doesn’t work out and he’s released before the season. I have no issues with the Giants going out and adding a once-solid guard, who struggled last year but is still south of thirty. I think it has little risk and some upside given the Giants’ interior offensive line's current state.
If something were to happen to center Nick Gates, Fulton can fill in and play that position, for he has significant experience at center, both guard spots, and even a little bit of time spent at tackle. The playoff experience, NFL experience, versatility, and solid tape before 2020, even better before joining the Texans, makes this a solid addition.
The Ugly: Pass Protection
Fulton was a disaster in pass protection during the 2020 season. He played 953 snaps, allowing 39 pressures and 11 sacks. Below are all 11 sacks, but here's a quick summary of his issues: Fulton really struggles with balance, footwork, and handling immediate power. I don’t believe it’s because the 6’5, 321-pound lineman doesn’t have the play strength, but I don’t think he engages it well due to poor footwork and center of gravity.
Fulton’s post foot plant is not consistently in a position to absorb power. This leads to him being put on skates and not handling the power well in catch & drive situations. I also see his hand usage as an issue; he doesn’t use those big hands enough to get inside and dictate snaps--he’s more of a tonger than someone who gets those hands inside initially.
Let’s go through all the 2020 sacks.
Here’s the first game of the 2020 season. Fulton gets beat by a talented Chris Jones’ (95) and his power. Jones shocks and extends, putting Fulton on skates and sending his already high center of gravity upward.
Then Jones explodes through his hips before quickly grabbing cloth and using his upper body strength to pull Fulton’s momentum downward. This is called a push-pull move, and Jones combines move with an outside swim to fully disengage from Fulton. The guard flat-out loses in this one-on-one situation.
Matt Judon (No. 99) is sugaring the A-gap, which forces Fulton to pay respects to his alignment pre-snap. Both Judon and the 4i-Technique bail, but Derek Wolfe (95) slants to Fulton’s outside shoulder at the snap, from the nose position.
Fulton is a bit late to recognize and pick up Wolfe, who puts himself into a really good position to earn the half-man relationship on Fulton automatically. Wolfe dips the inside shoulder, wins the pad level battle, and turns through contact to get around Fulton and sack DeShaun Watson (4).
It appears that Fulton expected center Nick Martin (66) to be there to help him against the 3-Technique, with the next closest defender on the line of scrimmage being, essentially, a 4i-Technique to the opposite side.
Fulton sets up outside, and Stephon Tuitt (No. 91) does a great job going inside with a very nice and powerful (we can glean that) club swim combination. Still not an excuse, but that could be the reality here.
This is a well-executed stunt with a blitzing linebacker swinging to the opposite A-Gap. Fulton is expecting a transition with his tackle on the 5-Technique, but the transition is with Martin, and that doesn’t go well as the penetrator takes Fulton out of the play and ends up getting the sack.
Martin had to transition to the looper who would have had a free run on Watson. There needs to be better overall awareness and communication from that side of the line.
Pro Football Focus credited this sack against Fulton, but there are multiple defenders in on Watson. It doesn’t appear that Fulton should have shouldered or earned this sack. Fulton does an adequate job handling the bull-rush and does well with his outside arm--reestablishing strength by adjusting and resetting his anchor.
The linebacker ends up coming on the blitz to initially hit Watson, but Fulton is engaged with the 4i-Technique--hard to pin this sack solely on Fulton, to be honest.
Nick Williams (No. 97) does a great job setting Fulton up outside and using exceptional lateral agility and quickness to go back inside where there’s no help. This is smart by Williams; working these types of moves against tight fronts with a nose is smart by defenders, for there is no interior help.
Once Williams gets that outside leg firmly planted, he explodes back inside, showing very good lateral agility and burst while also using his hands to further his momentum in that direction.
Fulton doesn’t have the foot speed or lateral movement skills to cut that angle off consistently, nor effectively; he could try to use his length, but that didn’t work here. Not to mention Williams is in control of Fulton’s upper body - there’s no balance, and Fulton can’t engage strength because he’s panicked right off the jump.
Fulton gives up two sacks against DeForest Buckner (99) in this game. Buckner uses his length to initiate contact. This gets Fulton reaching and uncomfortable. Then Buckner stabs with his inside arm to set up a quick swim move inside.
Buckner uses that outside arm to disengage from Fulton at the end of the swim. There’s a lot of speed, a lot of explosiveness, a ton of length, and a whole lot of power with a player like Buckner. This is not a matchup an offensive coordinator wants to see one on one. Buckner is a very fun player to watch.
Buckner wins here again, but this one is a bit more of a coverage sack. Watson attempted to escape, and the quarterback's movements gave Buckner the alley to the sack. It’s not all Fulton’s fault, albeit he was pretty far outside, leaving a lot of rush opportunity to his inside.
To his credit, many of these sacks are against top competition: Chris Jones, DeForest Buckner, and here is Khalil Mack (No. 52). Exploding from a wider alignment, Mack uses exceptional quickness, leverage, and strength not to allow Fulton to locate.
Fulton tries to engage power a bit early and doesn’t do well absorbing Mack. He also stops moving his feet outside, and Mack easily rips through the outside portion of Fulton to get to Watson for safety.
Buckner uses his hands so well to not allow Fulton inside hand placement. He hand fights with Fulton for a bit until Martin comes over to help.
Fulton makes a mistake and goes to assist his tackle, leaving Martin one on one with Buckner, which doesn’t go over well. Once he left Buckner, the star interior pass rusher easily slid past Martin and sacked Watson.
The block isn’t framed well, and the technique could use improvement. Fulton has an issue, at times, with his ability to engage in pass protection. His drive & catch leaves a lot to be desired, and he punches and lunges too often, leaving himself susceptible to these types of counter moves.
This is a good example, but we see it throughout these 11 sacks above. We can tell in Fulton’s footwork that he’s not driving power through the ground with his post foot; he does a quick double step here, but there’s no power coming through that outside foot, and then he lunges with his top half.
This is far from a perfect player, but that’s why he’s available for cheap in free agency.
As I stated, I don’t mind this addition at the cost and with little ramifications on his ability even to make the final roster. However, he brings upside and can compete with the other two guards while providing depth at center.
Hopefully, for his sake, 2020 was an anomalous year, and he can play to a previous standard that landed him a solid contract with Houston. It’ll be interesting to see the next move Dave Gettleman will draw up to address this still suspect offensive line.