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Larry Warford vs Zach Fulton: Talent, Fit, and Final Verdict on the Texans

The Houston Texans are reportedly interested in newly released offensive guard Larry Warford. Larry Warford is a 28 year old pro-bowler. Texans fans are very vocal on twitter in trying to sign Warford, having little faith in Zach Fulton, the current starter at right guard. Fulton and Warford are the same age, but far from the same player, and when considering a signing it is important to take three key factors in account. The talent difference between the player on the team versus the player being acquired, the scheme fit between the two players pertaining to the team, as well as contractual differences, in deciding if a player is slightly more talented and a better fit for the team. Let’s see if Warford to the Texans make sense.

Talent

Larry Warford and Zach Fulton are both in their prime at age 28. Neither will get much better over the next five years of their career, but should maintain their current level of play until they are at least 31 years old, and begin the inevitable decline. Warford has made the pro bowl in each of the past three seasons, while Fulton has no pro bowls to his name. Neither player has ever made an All-Pro team. Pro-bowl appearances are not as revered as All-Pro appearances because the fans vote on the pro-bowl, whereas media votes for the All-Pro team. Fans can be biased and the pro-bowl roster is often a representation of the most popular players rather than the best players. This is why looking at film is essential, especially for offensive linemen.

What Fulton brings

Fulton was oft-injured last year for the Texans and did not play to his best ability. He excelled in the run game opening holes for Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson regularly on film. He performed well against elite run stoppers in the league and opened holes for the backs in every game he played. Fulton is the superior run blocker of the two players. Warford still does well in the run, but he rarely pushes players off the line. He usually holds them up and holes are opened up elsewhere along the line. This is the sign of a good, but not elite run blocker. Warford was beat occasionally when matched up on elite run stoppers. In the passing game, however, the story is much different.

Fulton is a weak pass blocker. Film shows how he lacks the strength and hand speed to keep up with a lot of good interior pass rushers. He allowed the most sacks out of all the starting Texans lineman last season, while playing the least amount of games. Towards the end of the season, however, Fulton did show improvement. The last three games against the Jags, Eagles, and Jets, Fulton played well. All three teams also have admirable pass rushes, so it was nice to see him perform well against top end competition. This could be a sign that he was injured earlier in the season and may be better in pass protection than previously shown.

What Warford Brings

Warford, on the other hand, is an absolute stud in the pass game. His run game is solid, but he may well be one of the top 3 guards at pass blocking in the league. He has shown consistency against weak teams as well as played well when matched up against the best of the best. Warford is nothing short of elite when pass blocking. This makes Warford the more talented player overall, but not by much as Fulton has shown promise in the pass game as well.

Scheme Fit

The Texans offensive line has been revamped over the last couple years. This year looks like a group who could push for a top 10 finish among all offensive lines in the league. For the first time, all five starters are returning from last year and that is huge for a position group that works much better with chemistry. The interior of the offensive line serves a different purpose than the tackles. Tunsil and Tytus Howard are there to protect Watson and mainly pass block from the tackle spots. The interior, however, prides itself on its agility and utility. The Texans offense always prides itself on a good running game and even with Carlos Hyde last year, the zone running scheme was still prevalent in the offense.

This makes it essential for the guards to run block at a high level, so that the running game can operate without the need for outside runs. However, when it comes to the league as a whole, more and more pass rushers are lining up in the inside of the offensive line, creating tough match ups for a guard like Fulton. Although Fulton makes more sense for the scheme the Texans have run in the past, the league is shifting towards interior pass rushers and may not be feasible to have a guard that lacks pass blocking prowess as a starter anymore. More and more teams are putting an emphasis on bringing pressure from the A gap and B gap because it is getting harder and harder to beat tackles 1 on 1 on the outside because the offensive tackle position is so stacked right now around the league.

Evaluating the Money

Like most signings, the Warford decision will come down to the finances. Warford barely edges out Fulton in talent whereas Fulton barely edges out Warford in scheme fit so its hard to see which one would be better long term for the team. The short answer when it comes to decisions like this is ‘go with the one that is cheaper’. Fulton is 2 years into a 4 year deal with the Texans. The next 2 years have about $14 million guaranteed, but the Texans have an out clause in his contract that can be used before the 2020 season. If used, Fulton would be a free agent with no dead money.

This makes it very easy for the Texans to get out of his deal if they choose to go with Warford. Larry Warford, on the other hand was cut in similar fashion 2 years into his 4 year deal with the Saints.

Final Verdict

Warford has long list of suitors including the Bears and Browns, and it may be difficult for the Texans to get a deal done. If the Texans can get Warford at a cap hit of 7 million or less than I think he is worth the investment over Fulton who will carry a $7 million cap hit. Fulton may have potential, but Warford has proven himself in both facets of the game and is the more well-rounded prospect. However, if a bidding war begins and the contract term continue to rise above 7 million then it would be in the best interest of the Texans to back out and see if continuity and health can naturally improve Fulton’s game in the short term. Fulton is a good player in his own respect and there are good players around him in Houston so he does not have to carry the load.

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