The most interesting 2016 NFL offseason moves (part 2)

DSC_0198Brock Osweiler would score you 24 points in a game of Scrabble, but since the use of proper nouns is frowned on by us traditionalist Brock will have stick to scoring points on NFL field’s around America instead.  The 25 year old threw 10 touchdown passes in the 8 games he played last season, which is not particularly impressive but under Gary Kubiak’s stewardship the Broncos only threw 19 all season (a totally underwhelming TD pass % of 3.1, snore) so Brock’s number’s look pretty reasonable in that light.  The Broncos won 5 of the 8 games Osweiler started last season and averaged a shade over 20 points per game (compared to 24 ppg in Peyton Manning’s 8 starts).  When Manning retired it looked like the Broncos had a readymade replacement so when they decided that Osweiler could go to the Texans and draft Paxton Lynch instead more than a few heads were scratched.

For their part last season the Texans finished 9-7 and averaged 20 points per game, but they threw 29 touchdown passes (a TD% of 4.7).  They did make the playoffs as winners of the AFC South but since no other AFC South team managed to finish the season with a winning record it wasn’t exactly worth shouting from the rooftops.  Having drafted Ohio State standout Braxton Miller who will probably feature as a Wide Receiver opposite the blisteringly fast DeAndre Hopkins (who hauled in 11 of their TD passes last season), or in the slot, but has experience of playing at Quarterback in College so he could feature as a “Wildcat” QB.  As a College Quarterback Miller was known for his elusive running may even appear in the backfield as a Running Back alongside Osweiler so the Texans have no shortage of talent and versatility in the “skill positions”.  The area where you worry about the Texans Offence is up front; their Offensive line allowed 36 sacks last season and that contributed to the inconsistent performance of their Quarterback’s.  Brian Hoyer, by his own admission was bad in his first game for the Texans (some would say he wasn’t particularly good all season but he finished with 19 TD passes and just 7 interceptions) but having been sacked 25 times in 2015 he ended the season having received 2 concussions, an injured wrist and a strained neck!  Hoyer was sacked 6.3% of the times he dropped back to pass but Osweiler was sacked 7.7% of the times he dropped back for the Broncos last season and while the Broncos Offensive line was more comfortable run blocking more than a few of the 23 sacks on Osweiler were as a result of him not going through progressions quick enough or because he didn’t throw the ball away when nobody was open.  At 6 feet 8 inches tall and weighing around 108 kgs Osweiler is no Braxton Miller when it comes to the dancing feet and jet heels so the Texans pass Offence may well take a while to fulfil its undoubted potential.  If the addition of powerful Running Back Lamar Miller to the exciting Alfred Blue can provide the Texans with a balanced, or even run heavy Offence then they will have a real chance of winning the AFC South again.

By far the biggest plus for the Texans and the area where they have used more 1st round draft picks than you can shake a stick at is the Defensive front.  With JJ Watt, JaDaveon Clowney, Vince Wilfork and Whitney Mercilus all pressurising opposing Quarterbacks they should be very difficult to score against.  However last year they allowed n average just less 20 points per game and gave up 44 points to a capricious Miami Dolphins and 48 to the Falcons who finished the season 8-8!  Allied to this concerning trend is the fact that Clowney has traditionally struggled for fitness and JJ Watt may miss the start of the season with a back injury.

Osweiler leaving the Broncos will be more of a problem for them than it will be for Osweiler, the Texans have plenty of tools that he can utilise to his own benefit.  Even if Braxton Lynch is a revelation in Denver he won’t have stars like Hopkins and Miller around him, the AFC South should be a completely different kettle of fish this season with the Jaguars investing heavily during free agency and having a draft of a lifetime (plus their number 1 pick from the 2015 draft potentially playing his first NFL game this season having blown his knee out in training camp last season) and Andrew Luck actually being 100% healthy it promises to be a wild ride.

Sale Sharks, top 4 material?

dsc_0454.jpgA former Saracens physio once told me that Steve Diamond is mad and Diamond’s assertion that Sale Sharks “expect a top 4 finish” this season certainly appears to back that theory up (that really did happen, you meet some pretty interesting characters when you’re snowboarding in Canada)!  Sale have just been taken over by CorpAcq Ltd (led by Jason Orange’s brother Simon) so positive intent and saying the things the money men want to hear surely lead Diamond to make such an outlandish statement.  As an aside CorpAcq Ltd are, according to Bloomberg a “private equity firm specialising in buyouts and industry consolidation investments”, so a move into sports team ownership seems a little incongruous but that’s by the by.

 

Stability is a big part of building a successful team in any sport, the NFL’s New England Patriots have won have won 4 Super Bowl’s in the last 16 years under Bill Bellichick’s stewardship and with Tom Brady picking up 4 MVP awards and while Sir Alex Ferguson was manager at Manchester United they collected 38 trophies in 27 years, since his departure they’ve won just 2.  Stability, or in Sale’s case lack thereof is a very relevant issue going into the new season, they will have to bed 9 new players into their 016-17 squad and to compound the difficulties that they may bring the end of the 2015-26 season saw the departure of 10 players.  Of the 9 arriving players 5 of them have never played in England and only Dan Mugford has experience of playing for a Premiership team having been a member of Exeter Chief’s academy before moving to London Scottish.  The other 4 have a remarkable 292 Aviva appearance between them but Rob Webber lays claim to a whopping 170 of them and Halani Aulika weighs in with a hefty 89 of his own, so all in all they’ve got a fairly inexperienced group to integrate.  The most inexperienced of the group is without a doubt Josh Charnley who joins from Wigan Warriors Rugby League team, although at 25 he has plenty of time to learn and as a winger (an exceptionally good winger in the 13 man code) I can’t see adapting to union being a problem for the Chorley born try machine (149 in 151 appearances since you asked), he’s also a goal kicker and with the departure of the inconsistent boots of Danny Cipriani his ability could come in handy.

Cipriani’s departure could in itself be a problem since they’ve signed USA International Fly Half AJ MacGinty who will compete with Mugford for the 10 shirt, MacGinty is the more senior of the two at the ripe old age of 26 (Mugford is just 24) and after winning the Pro 12 with Connacht last season MacGinty will be full of confidence, but it’s hard to compare the Aviva Premiership and the Pro 12.  With Nick MacLeod returning to Wales to play for the Dragons and Joe Ford moving to Yorkshire Carnegie Sale have technically lost 3 Fly Halves and signed just 2 so young prospect Tom Morton could find himself pressed into duty but having represented England at under 18 and under 20 level he may well prove to be Sale’s secret weapon in the upcoming season. Another promising player Diamond will be looking forward to working with is Laurence Pearce, the former Leicester Tiger is a rampaging back rower but in TJ Ioane, Daniel Braid, Magnus Lund, David Seymour, Cameron Neild, the hotly tipped George Nott and most importantly the even more rampaging Josh Beaumont Sale have quite a queue of talented back rowers just waiting to play.

Sal may well improve on their 6th place finish this season but with at least 4 teams who have gone much less upheaval during the offseason (including Saracens, Exeter Chiefs, Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers <even Bath have only signed 7 new players, although their coaching situation is becoming comical> and Harlequins although they have new coaches joining their staff too) it will be an incredible achievement of they manage to crack the top for the first time since they finished as Champions in 2005-06.