Does DeShone Kizer Give Cleveland the Best Chance at Avoiding a Winless Season?

After benching DeShone Kizer during a game earlier this season as well as being demoting him to third string for another, Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson has decided to let his rookie quarterback remain as his starter for the rest of 2017.

Jackson was firm in his call to keep wheeling out Kizer "as long as he's healthy" for what remains of another lost season for the Browns, meaning that backups Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler will have to wait for the 2018 training camp to compete against Kizer and any quarterback the team may draft in the early rounds.

But does this move give the team the best chance to win a game in 2017?

A Rocky Start

Kizer's nine NFL games have so far brought him 1,555 passing yards for just 5 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, with the latter figure leading the NFL. But these numbers don't tell the full story.

To do that, we'll use Net Expected Points (NEP). This is our metric that tracks the expected points added on each play throughout the season for both teams and players -- with the team totals being adjusted for strength of opponent. NEP gives us the context to know that a three-yard completion on 3rd and 2 is much more valuable than that same completion on 3rd and 4. You can read more about NEP in our glossary.

While the acquisitions the team made in the offseason indicated the Browns wanted to becoming a running team -- or at least an offense built around a good offensive line -- the constant negative game scripts that have confronted them during their 0-10 start has meant that they have had to lean heavily on the passing game. As a result, the Browns are passing on 63.33% of their plays, the fifth-highest mark in the league.

That's put a lot of burden on Kizer, and he hasn't held up to it.

Among the 23 quarterbacks who have dropped back at least 300 times in 2017, Kizer ranks dead last in Passing NEP per drop back with a clip of -0.24. That means Kizer is costing Cleveland -0.24 expected points every time he drops back to pass. Not good.

For reference, the league average this season is 0.11, and the league average in 2016 was 0.12. In fact, among quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs in a campaign, Kizer's -0.24 Passing NEP per drop back is on pace to be the seventh-worst single-season mark in our database, which goes back to 2000.

"Ah yes, but he's just a rookie," you may be thinking.

Well, a study done a few years back by our JJ Zachariason showed that a quarterback's first season mattered a great deal when trying to predict how the rest of his career would go, and Kizer's Passing NEP per drop back places him in a tier with other first-year passers such as David Carr, Jimmy Clausen and Andrew Walter. That's not a good place to be, although, to be fair, Kyle Orton's and Jared Goff's rookie-year numbers put them in that bad tier, as well.

In concert with Passing NEP per drop back, we can also to take into account a quarterback's Passing Success Rate, or the percentage of drop backs which positively impact NEP. Kizer's 34.98% Success Rate is again last among all quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs in 2017 (the league average last year was 47.02%). Among passers with at least 300 drop backs in a year since 2000, Kizer's Success Rate is tracking as the fourth-worst.

All that was a very numbers-driven way to say Kizer has been really, really bad this season, and his future -- based on the history of first-year quarterback performance -- looks bleak.

How About His Competition?

Kizer has been nothing short of a historic flop for the Browns so far. But are the other options at Cleveland's disposal -- Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler -- any better?

Going by raw stats, Kessler actually led the Browns in passing in 2016 with 1,380 yards, 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Hogan attempted just 26 passes as a rookie and saw 2 of them intercepted, but we can't pull anything meaningful from a sample size of 28 drop backs (which also include sacks). So let's focus on Kessler, who has enough playing time to make some real observations about his numbers.

Let's see what tale NEP can tell us about his rookie season.

Player Drop Backs Passing NEP Per Drop Back Passing Success Rate
Cody Kessler 216 0.14 45.37%

Not only did Kessler put up way better numbers than what Kizer currently is, he was actually an above-average passer last year in regards to the rest of the league. Kessler's Passing NEP per drop back of 0.14 was a touch better than the league average of 0.12. His 45.37% Success Rate wasn't too far off the league average (47.02%).

Both Hogan and Kessler have seen a little action this season, and neither set the world aflame -- granted the sample size is pretty small.

Player Drop Backs Passing NEP Per Drop Back Passing Success Rate
Cody Kessler 27 -0.35 33.33%
Kevin Hogan 81 -0.15 41.98%

Given Kessler's 2016 form, he would make the most sense for the Browns for the rest of the season if their goal is to avoid going 0-16. On the other hand, if Jackson wants to give Kizer every chance to get going -- and possibly a better chance to succeed with Corey Coleman back in the fold -- there's an argument to be made for continuing to start Kizer.

Looking Forward

Only one team has gone 0-16 since the adoption of a 16-game schedule, and at 0-10, the Browns are in danger of joining the 2008 Detroit Lions in the saddest club in professional football.

We don't know what Hue Jackson's and Cleveland's goal is -- avoid 0-16 at all cost or get a full evaluation of Kizer. It's possible Jackson (and the team) believes Kizer gives him the best chance to get a victory, but our numbers point to Kessler being Cleveland's best quarterback -- by a wide margin

The Browns have a difficult run of games down the stretch. Here are their remaining opponents as well as the rank of each team's pass defense, per our schedule-adjusted metrics.

Team Rank
Bengals 21st
Chargers 6th
Packers 25th
Ravens 2nd
Bears 13th
Steelers 8th

The Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are among the elite in terms of pass defense, according to our numbers. But even the softer matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals should not be discounted as Kizer has already faced the Cleveland's state rivals once this season and was held to just 118 yards on 34 passing attempts in that defeat.

The one silver lining here is Jared Goff. The Los Angeles Rams' quarterback is having a superb season this year after putting together a truly awful rookie campaign in 2016. Goff finished last year with a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.27, the worst mark in the league that year among passers with at least 100 drop backs. That's actually worse than what Kizer has done so far.

But as we mentioned when discussing the aforementioned study on first-year quarterbacks, most guys with that horrible of a rookie season don't end up amounting to much. Sure, signal callers like Goff and Orton have bucked the trend, but they are outliers for a reason.

Maybe Kizer can follow Goff's path, or maybe the return of Corey Coleman (and possibly Josh Gordon) boost Kizer's play. But going by the numbers, if the Browns want to avoid a winless campaign, they should be starting Kessler.