Bill O’Brien was perhaps the most sought-after NFL head coaching candidate through the month of December and in the few days since the end of the regular season. But the more detailed rumors attaching him to the Houston Texans over the last few days have now come to fruition, as the Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday the two sides have agreed to a deal to make O’Brien the third permanent head coach in the franchise’s history.
Most of O’Brien’s coaching experience has been in the college ranks, most recently serving as head coach at Penn State over the last two seasons (15-9 record) in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Before that he worked in the NFL with the New England Patriots from 2007-2011, working his way from receivers coach to offensive coordinator during his time under Bill Belichick.
O’Brien is a well-regarded offensive mind, but how will his presence impact Houston’s skill position players from a fantasy football perspective?
This will be a position of transition for the Texans, with Matt Schaub virtually certain to be gone, Case Keenum not likely to be a long-term solution and the No. 1 overall pick next May likely to be used on a quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater?). Whoever starts under center for Houston next season is unlikely to be a great fantasy option, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see multiple players start games.
Working with Tom Brady would make any offensive coordinator look good, but O’Brien can be given a lot of credit for the season freshman signal caller Christian Hackenburg just had at Penn State (2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; 134.0 passer rating) and his ability to work with a young quarterback will be essential in his new job.
Arian Foster played just eight games this season before being sidelined by a back injury that required surgery, and his workload over the last four seasons (1,258 total touches) may be catching up with him. He should still be a solid fantasy option in 2014, but Foster will be a very risky choice as a RB1.
Ben Tate has had some good moments as Foster’s backup, but he is scheduled to become a free agent and is not expected to re-sign with Houston.
The rest of Houston’s current running back crop (Dennis Johnson, Ray Graham, Jonathan Grimes) is not impressive, but if Foster struggles to stay healthy again next year fantasy owners will have to pay attention to who takes his place.
The Nittany Lions were 59th in the country in rushing offense in 2013 (174.0 yards per game), and two running backs (Zach Zwinak-210 carries for 989 yards and 12 touchdowns; Bill Belton-157 carries for 803 yards and five touchdowns) had productive seasons.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Even though he’ll turn 33 prior to next season, Andre Johnson had a very good 2013 season (109 receptions for 1,407 yards and five touchdowns) and he is still clearly Houston’s No.1 wide receiver as well as a legit WR1 for fantasy owners. Behind Johnson is a group of young players (DeAndre Hopkins, DeVier Posey, Keshawn Martin) that may struggle to produce consistently if a rookie quarterback is in place.
Tight end Ryan Griffin had 14 receptions over the final three games of his rookie season, as injuries to Owen Daniels (leg) and Garrett Graham (hamstring) gave him an opportunity to play. With Graham slated to be a free agent and Daniels a potential salary cap casualty, Griffin has the potential to be a viable option in 12 and 14-team leagues in 2014 if he can earn a starting role.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson was the clear-cut top option in Penn State’s passing game this past season, with 97 receptions for 1,432 yards and six touchdowns. No one else had more than 28 catches, 333 yards or three touchdowns.
Andre Johnson will be among the first handful of wide receivers drafted next year, and with questions surrounding Foster he is in line to be the most fantasy-worthy player on the Texans’ roster by a wide margin. Foster will be draftable as long as he is on track to be ready for Week 1, but he will be a major risk-reward player.
The quarterback Houston likely drafts will be on the radar of dynasty league owners immediately, while Hopkins, Griffin, Posey, Martin and Dennis Johnson could also carry some appeal in that format. In terms of solid value for just 2014, I think Hopkins and Griffin are the top two options in the aforementioned group.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.