Is Brian Hoyer Really the Answer for the Houston Texans?
It has been a crazy couple of days.
Despite the league year not officially starting until Tuesday, NFL front offices have been extremely busy completing trades and scouring the free agent market. With big names like LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Frank Gore and others changing locations, smaller name players easily get lost in the shuffle.
Brian Hoyer is expected to sign with the Houston Texans, reuniting with his one-time offensive play-caller/coordinator, Bill O'Brien. O’Brien seems to be actively collecting his former quarterbacks, with Hoyer joining Ryan Mallett on the roster, pushing incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick out the door.
Houston’s 2014 fourth-round draft pick, Tom Savage is also under contract, but the starting job will likely come down to a competition between Hoyer and Mallett. Can either one be a serviceable starting quarterback, or even be an improvement compared to Fitzpatrick?
Let’s find out.
Hoyer: By The Numbers
Up until the time he won the starting quarterback spot in Cleveland last season, Hoyer had been the definition of a career backup. In his first five seasons, he started just four games, and attempted only 192 passes.
In 2014, he led the Browns to a 6-3 record through Week 9 before the wheels fell off. In Weeks 10-13, Hoyer tossed eight interceptions to just one touchdown, and was eventually replaced by Johnny Manziel.
He was mediocre in terms of our advanced metrics, ranking 21st in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) among 30 quarterbacks who attempted 300 or more passes last season. His 0.04 mark put him equal with the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton, but this was weighted heavily by a stronger start to the season. After the good start, he finished the season as a bottom-five passer, per our metrics.
At the end of the day, Hoyer’s career completion percentage (56.5%) and 1-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio (19/19) doesn't inspire much confidence in him being the savior of the Houston Texans. But considering the other options in town, is he really that bad of a choice relatively speaking?
The Other Options
Although he may not have been flashy, Fitzpatrick was the most efficient quarterback in 2014 that the Texans currently have access to. His 0.08 Passing NEP per drop back ranked 18th among 37 quarterbacks who attempted at least 200 passes, and was far more efficient than Hoyer's rate.
But with Fitzpatrick out of the picture and Tom Savage not likely to be ready to start in 2015, the only thing stopping Hoyer from the starting gig will be pressure from Ryan Mallett. And if Hoyer is lacking game experience, Mallett would be nearly devoid of it.
Before attempting 75 passes last season in two starts, Mallett had attempted only four passes in his three NFL seasons combined. In 2014, Mallett finished with a 0.00 Passing NEP per drop back, which, despite appearing as replacement-level, was far below the average in today's NFL.
Other than being the “prototypical body type" for an NFL quarterback, Mallett falls short of Hoyer in both game experience and efficiency according to our metrics. As mentioned before, both Mallett and Hoyer have ties to O’Brien, giving neither any real advantage there. But the one thing that may give Mallett and edge is the fact that he has a full year in O’Brien’s system, and we know less about him -- there's ambiguity, which means there's more potential for growth.
Judged solely by last year’s metrics, Fitzpatrick should still be the Texans’ starter. But with the roster moves the Texans have made, it’s clear they don’t see him as the future at the position.
If nothing major happens between now and the start of training camp (no quarterbacks drafted, Fitzpatrick does indeed leave), it looks like the quarterback spot in Houston will be decided by a true camp competition.
By bringing Hoyer in and signing him to a multi-year contract, it’s clear that Houston values him more than just a rental player. It also points to the fact that they believe Tom Savage may still need seasoning before he is ready to be a full-time starter (if at all).
The Texans were the most run-heavy team in the league last season. With the apparent lack of a true starting quarterback heading in 2015, don’t be surprised if they lean heavily that direction again, regardless of who ends up as the starting signal-caller.