Last week, the Kansas City Chiefs signed right guard Paul Fanaika to a three-year, $8.1 million contract. Many wondered aloud if this meant the end of Zach Fulton as a starter, the rookie who started all 16 games in 2014.
On Friday, I wrote a film review on Fanaika after watching four games of his tape with the Arizona Cardinals last year. The piece led to multiple requests that I sit down and do the same with Fulton, comparing and contrasting their styles while trying to decipher who should start in 2015. Ultimately, I am a man of the people, so I sat down on Monday and plowed through four games to analyze Fulton closely.
In the end, I watched Fulton play against the San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, New York Jets and the second Oakland Raiders game. Why these contests? San Francisco, St. Louis and New York has terrific defensive fronts. I wanted to judge Fulton against the best. I threw in Oakland at the end because it is obviously a weaker team, and I was looking to see if Fulton could dominate.
So what did I find? Let's give an overview of Fulton's play, then compare him to Fanaika, then come to a conclusion.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Fulton, 23, is listed at 6'5 and 316 pounds. From that frame, you would expect that Fulton is a road grader who doesn't have a ton of mobility. This is not what I saw from Fulton.
In the run game, Fulton showed consistent ability to get to the second level. I was genuinely impressed with his footwork and clear understanding of concepts. His best run-blocking trait is pulling and getting out in front. For a man his size, Fulton can really move and is built for plays such as sweeps and tosses. On the downside, Fulton can be jacked up at times and shed when Jamaal Charles or Knile Davis is going by. Generally, Fulton was never beaten clean, but he could be stacked on occasion. Overall, Fulton is a solid run blocker.
When in pass protection, Fulton needs work. His biggest problem is being walked back into the pocket. Fulton does not play high, so it is not a matter of getting lower. The issue is needing to build up strength in his legs and getting a quicker punch. When Fulton was quick with his hands, he won almost every time. However, if the defender got into his frame, he almost never re-anchored. Say what you will about Eric Fisher, but he's excellent at anchoring. Fulton needs more work in this area than anywhere else.
In totality, Fulton was solid against the Niners, mediocre versus the Rams, inconsistent against the Jets and dominant versus the Raiders.
Fulton vs. Fanaika
Fanaika (6'5, 327 pounds) is built like an ice box with legs. His mobility is nothing compared to Fulton, who is obviously a much better athlete. However, Fanaika appears much, much stronger. When he gets his hands on defenders, they are done until the next snap. Fulton is a better fit in screens and sweeps, but Fanaika is a superior pass-blocker by a considerable margin judging by the games I watched.
Fanaika, 28, has the weakness of indecision. Often, Fanaika will be uncertain who to block and stand there in his stance looking to make sure no blitzers are coming. While this happens sometimes on three-man rushes, Fanaika needs to understand his responsibility to help better. Fulton has no such issues in this department. He's always engaging a defender, showing maximum effort.
Fulton is also good at cut blocks and combination blocks, an encouraging trait to see from a rookie out of the sixth round.
So, who should start?
If Fulton can gain leg strength, he should be the man. Four years younger and with infinitely more athleticism, Fulton has ample upside. I don't see any reason why Fulton can't improve and become a quality guard in this league, although don't expect him to turn into a Pro Bowl or All-Pro player.
If Fulton is still getting walked into the pocket throughout training camp, Fanaika has a real chance to get the nod. The Chiefs are clearly in a win-now mode, and Fanaika makes less mistakes. I believe head coach Andy Reid would prefer to allow Fulton the opportunity to improve through live game action, but won't sacrifice the best interests of the team to do so.
Ultimately, I'm putting my money on Fulton.