Does Brock Osweiler Make the Texans Much Better?
A month after winning the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos are looking for a quarterback.
That appeared to be less clear as legal tampering and free agency started amidst reports Osweiler could be considering a deal from the Houston Texans.
Still, it appeared unlikely Osweiler would leave the Broncos with a clear starting spot opened up. Then this happened, and Osweiler was gone:
I'm told QB Brock Osweiler has agreed to a deal in principle with the Houston #Texans.
— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) March 9, 2016
Initial reports on contracts are always crazy, and the raw total of money is rarely indicative of what the real value of the contract is, but that’s all that’s been released for this deal so far, and it’s a reported four-year deal for $72 million. That $18 million average would be around Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford for the 15th-highest average annual value for quarterbacks, per Spotrac.
Osweiler gives hope in theory, but in reality, there’s only so much we know about his level of play. Filling in for Manning, Osweiler dropped back 298 times last season, the 32nd-most among quarterbacks in 2015. That’s not a huge sample to work with, but that’s what we got, and it’s the sample we’re going to examine.
Incoming vs. Incumbent
During Osweiler’s time as a starter in 2015, he was a fairly average quarterback by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP, for the uninitiated, measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data.
46 quarterbacks dropped back at least 100 times last season. Among that group, the average Passing NEP per drop back was 0.113. Osweiler’s Passing NEP per drop back during 2015 was 0.077.
Houston’s 2015 starter, Brian Hoyer, ranked 20th among those quarterbacks at 0.100 Passing NEP per drop back, slightly better than Houston’s new quarterback.
While Osweiler was merely average in in Passing NEP per drop back, he came out more favorably in Successful Completion Percentage, which measures the amount of passing attempts that resulted in plays that positively impacted NEP. 52.3 percent of Osweiler’s attempts resulted in a “success,” the ninth-highest total among quarterback. He also had the seventh-lowest rate of Failed Completions, which are completed passes that did not lead to positive NEP.
While that might shine some favorable light on Osweiler, it’s not far off from what Hoyer did last season either. Hoyer was 11th in Successful Completion Percentage and had the 5th-lowest rate of Failed Completions. Statistically, the two quarterbacks weren’t far off from each other:
Osweiler has a clear age advantage -- he’ll be 26 years old in November -- but there was not much in his on field play that suggests he should be valued this much more than Hoyer.
As Hoyer did, Osweiler will get the benefit of playing with DeAndre Hopkins, who has made himself fairly quarterback proof in his development. Hopkins was 12th among 32 receivers with at least 100 targets in Reception NEP per target for 2015. With a quarterback statistically similar to what Hoyer produced last season, Hopkins will likely again be the bright spot of the Houston offense.
In Denver, Osweiler also was aided by the best defense in the league, which did not put him in a position to need to score a lot of points on offense. It likely won’t be to that extent in Houston, but the Texans aren’t far off. Houston ranked third in Adjusted NEP per play on defense last year behind the Broncos and Carolina Panthers.
What the Texans are betting on here is development from Osweiler with more playing time. He’s still young and has the tools many would look for in a quarterback prospect. In his short time as a starter in 2015 it didn’t necessarily provide overly positive results, but there’s time to grow. Brian Hoyer at this point is Brian Hoyer.
Statistically, Osweiler is very similar to Hoyer, but the potential to be more is what Houston is buying. They’re paying a hefty price, though, to find out.
A Void Left Behind
What makes Osweiler’s departure from Denver truly interesting -- more than what it means for the Texans' offense -- is what the Broncos will do to fill a now vacant depth chart at quarterback. As it stands right now, Trevor Siemian is the lone quarterback on Denver’s active roster. We can probably assume that’s not going to last.
Early rumors have placed both Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III as options to take over, and both make a semblance of sense. Under a more traditional Gary Kubiak offense with a heavy use of play action, both could possibly succeed. We took a look at what it might take for Griffin to again be a successful player in the NFL, and the situation in Denver checks many of those boxes.
Kaepernick would also benefit from this type of system, but acquiring him would mean a trade is needed.
Griffin, of course, did not play during the 2015 season, while Kaepernick was one of the league’s worst quarterbacks in a year that saw little go right for the 49ers. Kaepernick was 40th in Passing NEP per drop back, though his replacement Blaine Gabbert was only one spot ahead.
These two likely aren’t the only two players the Broncos will consider for their open quarterback job. However they decide to attack it, it should be fascinating to watch. The last time the Broncos were looking for a new starting quarterback, they ended up with Peyton Manning. Don’t undersell the impact John Elway could have.