When I think about the nice things I've said about Hercules Offshore (NASDAQ:HERO) over the past year or so, I feel some pangs of regret. Rather than telling Fools to hang in there, I could have spent that time cajoling folks into considering better contract drillers like ENSCO International (NYSE:ESV) or Noble (NYSE:NE).

I didn't cover Hercules' earnings last time around, but they weren't pretty. The company's CEO even got the boot late last month. If you want evidence that Hercules is suffering from more than just a bad macro environment, I'd say that's exhibit A. The new chief executive is a veteran of both Noble and Rowan Industries (NYSE:RDC), and I can only hope that he brings some of the Noble flair for fat margins to this operation.

It won't be an easy task, considering the assets here. The company may very well have strong operating crews, but Hercules' rigs are limited in the drilling feats they can achieve. Eyeball the rated water depth of the jackup fleet versus that of, say, Noble, and you'll see a pretty stark difference. The majority of Hercules' jackups are rated for fewer than 250 feet of water, while only a handful of Noble's fall into that category.

Water depth is only one dimension of a rig's capabilities, but I believe it's a useful shorthand that helps explain results. Look at the difference in Gulf of Mexico utilization rates between Hercules and ENSCO. Hercules: lots of shallow-water jackups, 80% utilization. ENSCO: no jackups below 250 feet, 100% utilization.

As the company fairly pointed out yesterday, Hercules' second-quarter results improved, and I expect that trend to continue. Gulf of Mexico drilling is picking up, as projected. Because Hercules' margins are relatively weak, it offers stronger leverage to rising shallow-water dayrates than its peers. That, and a possible improvement in upper management, constitutes the best case I can make today for holding the shares.

Fools are decidedly big believers in Hercules' might, rating the stock five out of five stars in Motley Fool CAPS. For more sides to the story, check out the community commentary right and make your own call right here.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute can be found picking stocks in CAPS under the name TMFSmashy, but doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.