After being considered one of the favorites to win a championship in recent years, the Houston Texans finished as the worst team in the league with a 2-14 record after an abysmal 2013 season. In an attempt to right the ship, the first order of business for owner, Bob McNair, was to fire Head Coach, Gary Kubiak, and replace him with former New England Patriot Offensive Coordinator and Penn State Head Coach, Bill O'Brien. Since the hiring, O'Brien has been preaching "scheme versatility" for the offense, defense, and even for the individual players that are being required to learn multiple positions. This philosophy should excite Texan fans but be a cause for concern for fantasy owners investing in the Houston offense.
In the Kubiak era, the Texans had a very predictable and conservative offense with a major focus on the rushing attack, plenty of receptions for Andre Johnson, and enough red zone targets for the tight ends to give them weekly sleeper status throughout the season. Now, that scheme is headed to Baltimore with Kubiak as their new Offensive Coordinator and the simple bliss of having clarity over the Houston offense will be completely blown away by the Bill O'Brien regime. Similar to Bill Belichick in New England, O'Brien's game plans will change weekly and he will feature whichever player that he thinks will give him the greatest chance to win the game.
Bill O'Brien is considered by many to be a quarterback guru and will have to put those skills to the test with the lackluster crop of quarterbacks on this roster. Fitzpatrick was just recently named the starter and will get the bulk of reps once training camp begins later this month. O'Brien knows exactly what he has in the veteran Fitzpatrick. He is smart and accurate in the short to intermediate passing game but does not have the arm strength or accuracy for the deeper targets. The offensive game plan should be catered to his strengths with shorter and quicker routes by the wide receivers and tight ends and even utilizing the running backs more in the passing game. He could be very successful in this type of offense if he is not asked to do much more than that.
Keenum was given the chance to prove he could be the quarterback of the future in the last half of the 2013 season. He showed some flashes that spurred a lot of excitement but was unable to do it with enough consistency to win one single game. He struggled with reading the defenses and making the subtle adjustments in the pocket to create passing lanes, which is critical for shorter quarterbacks like Keenum, Russell Wilson, and Drew Brees. Kubiak had a special bond with Keenum but was still unable to develop his skills enough to produce effectively as a starter at the NFL level. After deciding to trade T.J. Yates to the Atlanta Falcons, O'Brien has shown that he is also intrigued with Keenum's skill set enough to keep him around. He will now try his hand at working with the 3rd year quarterback to see if he can turn him into more than just a formidable backup option.
Lying in wait at the bottom of the depth chart for at least this season will be the rookie, Tom Savage, from Pittsburgh. Savage has intrigued O'Brien since his college days when he almost transferred to Penn State, where O'Brien was coaching at the time. Savage has elite arm strength and can make any throw an NFL quarterback could be asked to make. However, he still needs a lot of work on his accuracy and decision making. The Bill O'Brien offense will be very complex for a rookie quarterback. Therefore, the Texans will give Savage plenty of time to learn the offense before putting him on the field to attempt to earn the title of the Texans' future franchise quarterback.
After coming off of back surgery last November, Arian Foster has been declared fully healthy and should be the centerpiece of the offense this year. Only a couple years ago, Foster was considered by many to be the best all-around running back in the league and the #2 fantasy option behind Adrian Peterson. If Foster can remain healthy, he should return to the top of the league in all-purpose yards and be a top five fantasy running back. He will be used in all areas of the new offense as one of the few complete three-down running backs. He still possesses elite vision and balance for the run game and some of the best receiving skills for a running back to boost his fantasy numbers in the pass game.
In interviews during OTAs, O'Brien has described Andre Brown and Alfred Blue as being strictly 1st and 2nd down running backs. Brown was signed from the New York Giants to be the replacement for Ben Tate, who signed with the Browns in free agency, and has shown the capable skills of being a good power running back but has struggles with injuries. He has broken his left leg in consecutive seasons and suffered a concussion late last season. The rookie, Blue, has his own injury concerns as well after suffering a season ending leg injury at LSU last year. He has since been cleared and has drawn rave reviews during OTAs and is said to be in a competition with Brown for the #2 running back job behing Foster.
Dennis Johnson has the quickness and elusiveness to be a good change-of-pace back for this team, but if his ball security issues continue, he will not be on this team for long. Bill O'Brien, as a Belichick disciple, will not allow it. He was also unable to show the vision and tackle-breaking ability last year that he possessed in college at Arkansas, especially when rushing up the middle.
Jonathan Grimes has been the go-to guy for Gary Kubiak and the Texans when injuries have piled up in the past couple years because of his cut-and-go style that fit the Texans' zone running scheme. However, with O'Brien planning on running multiple running schemes in his offense, Grimes will have to show more versatility to remain on this roster or he will be better served to go to another team that predominantly runs the zone scheme.
The biggest story for the Texans this offseason will be when Andre Johnson will return from his holdout. He reportedly wants to be traded but the Texans have no intention of doing so. I assume after a brief holdout, they will be able to reconcile. He will return before the season starts and continue to pad his numbers for his Hall of Fame resume. Although he may be losing speed as he ages, his elite route running still allows for him to get open with ease. He continue to be the go-to target for whoever lines up under center for the Texans.
Hopkins struggled to learn the offense in his rookie year last year but still put up good numbers for a rookie and was only credited with one single dropped pass for the entire season. By his own admission, he has become frustrated with trying to learn the new and more complex Bill O'Brien offense. If he can get the mental side of the game in order, "Nuk" has the physical ability to be a force in this league. If he gets enough targets, he will have a good chance to produce an Alshon Jeffery-like breakout season in his sophomore year.
When O'Brien first began watching film on his new team, he stated that there was no true "slot" wide receiver currently on the roster, which will be a featured position in his offense. As the team went through OTA practices, he admitted that he was wrong and that Mike Thomas, Keshawn Martin, and Alan Bonner all had shined when placed in the position. Mike Thomas, as the seasoned veteran, should have the first crack at the job and will be a nice deep sleeper in fantasy. Keshawn Martin has had ball security issues and has attempted to play through a few nagging injuries that has delayed his progression. Bonner was a sixth round pick from Jacksonville State in the 2013 draft but spent his entire rookie year on injured reserve.
After flashing with limited opportunities in his rookie season, DeVier Posey suffered a torn Achillies in the final game of the playoffs against the Patriots. After a speedy recovery, he returned the next season and continued to impress when getting on the field. If Andre Johnson's holdout continues into the season or Hopkins struggles to learn the offense continue, Posey will be one to keep an eye on.
The O'Brien offense should heavily feature multiple tight end formations, similar to the Patriots. When Garrett Graham was re-signed, he was told by O'Brien that he would be designated as the "move" tight end, essentially playing the Aaron Hernandez role. This should lead to many targets, especially with Fitzpatrick under center, as an intermediate passing option.
C.J. Fiedorowicz was drafted in the third round this year in an attempt to fill the Rob Gronkowski role for this offense. He was not used heavily in the Iowa offense but had shown great potential in his limited role and greatly impressed the Texan coaches with his blocking and receiving skills in a pre-draft private workout. He will have his opportunities in the passing game but will likely spend most of his time blocking in his first year helping the offensive line in the run game and pass protection.
Ryan Griffin is a favorite of many dynasty league owners but the addition of Fiedorowicz hampers his value for the forseeable future. I believe he will be used as a backup to both Fiedorowicz, as the inline tight end, and Graham, as the move tight end. If any should miss significant time, Griffin will be thrust back into the spotlight, and he has already shown that he can produce when given the opportunity.
For this year, the defense should be one of the best in the league and allow for the offense to stay slightly more simple and conservative as the team adjusts to the new system. With this in mind, the Texans have only a few players worth drafting in standard leagues, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Garrett Graham. Fantasy owners in deeper leagues should be aware of the many other options with the chance to produce in this offense, like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andre Brown, Mike Thomas, and CJ Fiedorowicz, but in the same instance, be wary that with every game, a different player will be featured in the ever-changing game plans from week to week.