The Cleveland Browns ignited hope in their fanbase in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft by selecting the insanely popular and polarizing Johnny Manziel with their second of two first-round picks. In doing so, most assumed Manziel would step in and start from day one, because really, "Who else plays quarterback in Cleveland, anyways?"
According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland.com, however, the Browns have yet to hand over the reigns to Manziel. Cabot reports that Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told attendees of a luncheon that Brian Hoyer is the starter, and that Manziel will have to earn the starting job, citing Cleveland's "hard-working town" status as the reason for not handing him the gig right away.
Hoyer appeared in only three games in 2013, with one of those appearances ending after only four pass attempts. But during his time in charge of the Cleveland offense, he was impressive, posting 615 yards passing with five touchdowns and three interceptions. This included a magnificent performance against the rival Bengals, in which he earned a Quarterback Rating of 103.9.
But here at numberFire, we like to use Net Expected Points to find the efficiency of a player, rather than relying on raw statistics. You can learn more about NEP by clicking here and heading to our glossary. So what do our metrics say about Hoyer, and is it reasonable to think he'd be a better starting option than Manziel in 2014?
Hoyer vs. Campbell and Weeden
Hoyer was able to attempt 96 passes before being sidelined with an injury in 2013, so we have a small but slightly workable sample size when considering his efficiency. Hoyer finished in the middle of the pack among quarterbacks with 75 or more passing attempts in 2013 on a per drop back basis, which put him ahead of "bigger names" like Joe Flacco, Ryan Tannehill and Sam Bradford, and left him just behind Carson Palmer and Robert Griffin III. The other Cleveland quarterbacks? They finished seventh from the bottom (Brandon Weeden) and 11th from the bottom (Jason Campbell), both well behind Hoyer.
So while Hoyer certainly wasn't good, he was at least among the 25 best signal-callers to throw a decent amount of passes last season, something his colleagues in Cleveland couldn't say. And while he might not live up to the expectations his fantasy owners may have built up when he helped them win for a couple of weeks in 2013, he's still a serviceable NFL signal-caller based on his short history in the league. He was asked to do too much against Minnesota in 2013 (he attempted 54 passes, leading to a rather inefficient day featuring three interceptions), but when his role was dialed back against Cincinnati (38 attempts), he performed much better. The Bengals finished with the second-best passing defense using Adjusted Defensive NEP statistics (which take into account strength of schedule), so it was a pretty impressive feat for a career backup.
Can his new coaching staff keep the offense balanced enough to allow him to thrive, or will he be asked to chuck it up 50 times per game to try to keep the team afloat? Considering new Browns head coach Mike Pettine's New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens (Boller era, not Flacco era) background, I would hope he's wise enough to not let a less-than-stellar signal caller sling the ball all over the yard on offense.
Because while Brian Hoyer isn't a special player, he's the kind of average, run-of-the-mill stopgap player that's perfect for sitting in front of an unrefined rookie in the short-term. Which is exactly what the Browns have in Johnny Manziel...
Hoyer vs. Manziel
Setting aside my thoughts of what Manziel does after doing tape study on the Texas A&M prospect (hint: I don't like him at all), let's consider more numberFire metrics to determine if he's a better option than Hoyer from day one. numberFire Founder and CEO Nik Bonaddio has already taken a look at the top comparables for Manziel using our READ metric, and you can take a look at the results here. But to make a long story short, Manziel's measurables and rookie circumstances compare most favorably to Donovan McNabb, Russell Wilson, Alex Smith, Tarvaris Jackson and Christian Ponder.
And of those five quarterbacks, only two (McNabb and Wilson) had anything remotely resembling a decent season within their first two years in the league. Wilson is the poster child for the athletic, short quarterback, but watching even a moment of film on Manziel reveals a much more chaotic and creative passer than the even-keeled Wilson.
None of the other comparisons are very appealing, with the three most similar (Smith, Jackson, and Ponder) all downright rotten compared to the efficiency displayed by Hoyer last season (albiet in a small sample size).
And when considering Manziel's tape more strongly, we see a quarterback who needs to gain experience doing things that NFL quarterbacks do, like making quick decisions from the pocket, and running an offense not entirely based out of the shotgun with four or five receivers. Sitting behind Hoyer for a season (or even half of a season) would provide time for Manziel to adjust to the NFL, which would be beneficial for a Browns team that may be without Josh Gordon for some or all of the season, anyways, and doesn't figure to be a contender without their offensive centerpiece.
Hoyer is at least capable enough to take care of the offense and keep the team competitive in 2014, assuming he can keep up the pace he was on in 2013. Hoyer has only started three games as a pro, but in those three games, he performed like an average, not-very-special quarterback should. He was bad against the stout 49ers defense (in 2012), he was a bit frustrating but decent against a not great Minnesota defense, and he surprised everyone with a pretty good showing against the Bengals. He's not going to be a fantasy football superstar (you usually don't target the 25th most efficient passer in fantasy), but he'll be good enough to give Browns fans something to cheer about while they wait for the return of Gordon and the arrival of Manziel.