5 things that have to happen for Bill O'Brien's bizarre offseason to pan out
The Texans offseason has been a mess to say the least. One website had them with two of the worst five moves of the off-season. While it is hard to argue that the DeAndre Hopkins trade was anything but an unmitigated disaster, there is a chance this all works out. It's unlikely, but let's look at the possibilities.
1) Deshaun Watson takes the next step
Watson has been brilliant at times, shaky at others. He has developed into a fine starting quarterback. But he needs to take the next step and become consistently great. He will always be handcuffed by mediocre coaching, but great players overcome that. If Watson becomes great, he can make up for a lot of issues.
2) The receivers stay healthy
This is a big if, obviously. Brandin Cooks is coming off a concussion filled season. Randall Cobb is getting old. And Will Fuller is a hamstring waiting to happen. But if all of those guys can stay healthy, or even two of them, since Kenny Stills is a nice fallback, this could be a dynamic group. Would it be better with Hopkins? Of course. But at least their are weapons, speed and the potential to be a pretty good group. I certainly would not bet on them staying healthy, especially the peanut brittle mess that is Fuller, but if they do, fans might forget about Hopkins. It's not inconceivable that Cobb plus Cooks could replace his production.
3) Turn back the clock
To 2016, when running back David Johnson was not an overpaid stiff. If the Texans can get better production out of Johnson than they did last year's reclamation project, Carlos Hyde, then the running game should be pretty solid. As with all of these, it is a big if, and no matter what he does, Johnson is overpaid. But did you think Hyde would be a 1,000-yard back?
4) The OL takes a big step
Consistency in an offensive line usually leads to success. All five starters will be back, and with Laremy Tunsil locked up longterm, the tackle positions should be set. Tytus Howard was on his way to a Pro Bowl before getting hurt, and if he takes the next step, the Texans tackles could be as good as anyone. Max Scharping should improve in year two, and Nick Martin and Zach Fulton are at least middling players. Tunsil still has room to improve, but we will have to see if it happens now that he is paid. Regardless, this group should be a strength moving forward. It should be; the Texans have invested heavily. If they have invested wisely, this should be a solid group.
5) About that defense...
The defense was awful last season, generating little pash rush and the secondary was a mess. They have pretty much brought back the same group of corners, minus Johnathan Joseph, who simply can't play anymore. The hope is Lonnie Johnson takes a step forward and becomes worthy of his second-round pick status. They shuffled in some new safeties around Justin Reid, and the hope is it is an upgrade, although that seems iffy. Still, maybe they will be better on the back end. They are solid at linebacker, although Bernardrick McKinney and Whitney Mercilus are vastly overpaid. Maybe they generate some rush and improvement from Jacob Martin, Charles Omenihu, Jonathan Greenard and Duke Ejiofor. And of course, J.J. Watt has to stay healthy.
Of all the things that need to go right, this is the biggest question mark. But maybe a new defensive coordinator makes it all happen.
The bottom line
Yes, there is a lot of wishful thinking and hoping here. But that is what you do in the off-season. Even if all these things work out, the Texans are still not as good as the Chiefs or Ravens. But it could put them at the top of the rest of the conference, for whatever that's worth. Yes, the more likely scenario is they regress, maybe eke out another division title before a playoff exit. But if everything goes right and they stay relatively healthy? Maybe O'Brien's off-season does not look so bad. I wouldn't hold my breath, but hey, we all could use a little positive thinking right now.