Why Kevin Hogan Could Succeed With the Cleveland Browns
In the preseason, DeShone Kizer was slinging the ball around the yard, making highlight-reel completions and pulling away with the Cleveland Browns' quarterback competition. He deserved to be the team's starter in Week 1.
It's safe to say the regular season didn't go quite as well.
Browns named Kevin Hogan their starting QB.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 11, 2017
Just five games into the year, head coach Hue Jackson is making the switch, turning the reins over to second-year signal caller Kevin Hogan. Hogan entered in the second half of the team's Week 5 loss to the New York Jets and looked pretty solid, so the switch for a team that's 0-5 makes complete sense.
The question, though, becomes whether or not this is the best move for the Browns' future. They just spent a second-round pick on Kizer in this year's draft, and Hogan was a fifth-rounder for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2016. With Cleveland's playoff odds sitting at 0.0%, why not keep trotting Kizer out there to see if he's the answer for 2018 and beyond?
That line of thinking has a flaw in it. By asking that, it would seem to imply that there's zero chance Hogan winds up being a guy who could lead the team in coming years. And there's reason to believe that Hogan could succeed in the NFL.
What, exactly, makes it seem possible that Hogan could be the answer? It's a combination of factors, and they all say he at least deserves a crack at the job.
In the past, we've seen that collegiate efficiency stats are relevant when evaluating NFL draft prospects. This is the first area in which Hogan grabs your attention.
In the linked-to study above, we looked at each player's final-year efficiency stats to see if there was a tie between that and their success in the NFL. Based on that look, we were able to see that the number of games he played (or games with at least 10 pass attempts), his passer efficiency rating, and his adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) were the most important metrics. Here's how Hogan compares to Kizer there, again pulling the efficiency stats from their final years in school.
|Statistical Resumes||Games Played||Pass. Eff. Rating||AY/A|
When looking at quarterbacks who regularly finished as top-10 passers based on numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, the desired marks in each category were 37 games played, a 167.8 passer efficiency rating, and an AY/A of 9.5. Hogan exceeded all those marks by a pretty solid chunk. It's an apples-to-oranges comparison because the study looked exclusively at first-round picks, and draft stock absolutely matters when evaluating prospects, but Hogan does check the statistical boxes, at least.
With Kizer, though, college efficiency stats paint an incomplete picture. Notre Dame finished 4-8 in his final year, meaning they had issues that extended well beyond the quarterback. That's going to taint his numbers.
So, instead, we can look back to his numbers as a redshirt sophomore, his first year as a starter. Hogan started every season from his redshirt freshman year through his redshirt senior year, meaning we can also look at how Hogan did when he had a similar level of experience. Even when we do that, the two are merely even.
|As Redshirt Sophomores||Pass. Eff. Rating||AY/A|
We'll get the same results if we look at their full careers, too. From an efficiency and experience standpoint, Hogan stood above Kizer in college.
Again, though, draft stock matters because NFL scouts are good at what they do. This means our baseline expectation should be that Kizer will be better based on his being a second-round pick while Hogan went in the fifth. But the gap may not be as big as it seems.
Predictive Football's Kevin Cole looked at a study conducted by Football Outsiders of how likely quarterbacks were to become franchise quarterbacks based on where they were drafted. While the study notes that second-round picks hit roughly one fifth of the time, Cole made the argument that Kizer slipping to the 52nd overall pick -- meaning teams without franchise quarterbacks passed on him more than one time -- lowered those odds a bit. That would bring his odds of hitting down closer to Hogan's 7.8% odds as a fifth-round pick.
While we should favor Kizer based on draft stock, Hogan's not terribly far behind.
With Hogan, you're getting much more than just a pocket passer. As he has shown in brief stints both last year and this year, the dude can run.
Let's throw up a little blind resume here, shall we? Here are two prospects from the NFL combine and how they did in certain drills. Which one would you think is more athletic?
|At NFL Combine||40-Yard Dash||Vertical Jump||Broad Jump||3-Cone Drill|
These two guys were pretty similar in their 40-yard dash times, but Player A's agility drills were stellar. In fact, that guy led all quarterbacks at that year's combine in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, and three-cole drill.
As a shock to literally not a single person reading this, Player A is Hogan, and Player B is Kizer. That's another checkmark in Hogan's column.
Why Hogan Could Succeed
Before we even discuss Kizer's struggles through the first five games, it should be pretty clear that Hogan is deserving of a chance to start. But that doesn't mean much if he goes out there and struggles, too. So many factors affect quarterback play, and if Kizer had issues in these conditions, it's fair to think that Hogan could, too.
While that's entirely possible, it's far from being a given. And it's the team's third stringer -- Cody Kessler -- who provides some hope in that department.
Despite dealing with wretched conditions last year, Kessler finished 17th in Passing NEP per drop back -- which shows the expected points he added on a per-drop back basis, including deductions for events such as sacks, interceptions, and incompletions -- out of 39 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs. If we remove sacks from the equation for all passers, Kessler slides up to seventh. That's not too bad.
The coaching staff knows its personnel better than we do, and if they're putting Kessler third on the depth chart, it's for a reason. He may not be that good. But it goes to prove a larger point.
Kessler was able to excel last year in what were arguably worse conditions than Hogan and Kizer have had this year. The team beefed up its offensive line in the offseason, something that will have a hugely positive impact on quarterback play.
The receivers are a bit of a different story, but it may not be as different as it seems. Sure, Kessler had Terrelle Pryor, but that was about it. Corey Coleman was injured most of the time, as Kessler targeted him just 19 times the entire year. Duke Johnson was Kessler's second-most targeted player, followed by Gary Barnidge. Johnson's still there, and Seth DeValve and David Njoku have both emerged as reliable tight-end targets. When you add in the improved offensive line, the situation for quarterbacks this year relative to last year is at least a wash.
If Kessler -- whom the coaching staff has deemed to be below Hogan and Kizer -- was able to succeed in those conditions, it stands to reason that Hogan could do so in these. And in a small sample this year, he has.
Between two benchings and an in-game migraine for Kizer, Hogan has recorded 40 drop backs this year. Here are his efficiency stats in those 40 drop backs compared to those of Kizer. Success Rate is the percentage of drop backs that lead to an increase in expected points for the drive.
|In 2017||Drop Backs||Passing NEP||Success Rate|
Part of this could be chalked up to garbage time, but 19 of Hogan's drop backs came in a close game last week. He completed 16 of 19 passes for 194 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. Garbage time doesn't explain everything away.
This data by itself is a small sample. But when you add it on to Hogan's collegiate efficiency, his experience before entering the NFL, his athletic profile, and Kessler's success in a similar offense, it adds up to at least make you think this guy could succeed. The Browns would have been foolish to ignore those odds, no matter how slim they may be.
It's far from being a sure-fire thing that Hogan thrives in his chance with the Browns, and it's possible they turn back to Kizer before the season's over. But this is the right move. The Browns need to know if their quarterback of the future is currently on the roster, and Hogan has given them reason to believe he could be legit. They're giving him a chance to prove that, meaning Sunday's game against the Houston Texans will be one to watch.