When the 49ers began last season, the heated debates were focused on whether Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick (or even Christian Ponder depending who you ask) should start under center. As we all know, Gabbert started the season and was shortly benched for Kaepernick once he was healthy enough to start. Although some may argue that the quarterback play did improve after the change under center, the 49ers still finished with a 2-14 record (which just so happens to be tied for a franchise-worst). The team went ahead and let all the quarterbacks on the roster walk once the off-season began. As the contracts of Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, and Christian Ponder expired, San Francisco was left without a single quarterback left on the roster. This led many to believe the team was aiming to select one of the top-ranked signal-callers in the 2017 NFL Draft.
However, on March 8, 2017, the 49ers went out and signed former-Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer. Per Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet).
Source: FA QB Brian Hoyer is headed to the #49ers. Reunion with Kyle Shanahan
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 8, 2017
While many didn’t bat an eye at the signing, I must say I was more excited than most fans. The stigma around Brian Hoyer is that he is widely regarded as the Jeff Fisher of NFL quarterbacks – good enough to fool you into thinking he’s uber-capable, yet not good enough to carry a team to the next level. I couldn’t help but think about having an “Alex Smith” type signal-caller under center in the Bay once again. I started looking into Hoyer’s former play with the Bears, Texans, and Browns. I believe Hoyer is a better quarterback than he is given credit for. It is also imperative that Hoyer has played under Kyle Shanahan previously, so he has a firm grasp on the system. We’ll take a look at a few critical aspects of his game from last year and state my case as to why he’ll surprise the fans with his play this season (if he stays healthy of course).
I believe Hoyer’s best game is the short-intermediate game. During 2014-2016 (over the stretch of three different teams – Browns, Texans, and Bears) Hoyer averaged 7.3 yards per attempt with a passer rating of 88.7.
Above we see Hoyer stand in a clean pocket and deliver the ball perfectly for a first down.
Here, Hoyer is able to plant his back foot into the ground and hit his wide-open receiver in the end zone for a touchdown.
Above, we see Hoyer deliver a well-timed pass right on target to his receiver who was able to catch it in stride to pick up the first down and more.
With Kyle Shanahan at the helm, it is no stretch to say the 49ers will be leaning on the ground game heavily. With a running back group currently consisting of the likes of Carlos Hyde, Joe Williams, Tim Hightower, Kapri Bibbs, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert, I would not be surprised to see a good amount of Hoyer’s passes come from play-action throws. Once (and if) the defenders takes the bait on the run, the receivers will have a little extra space to get open and make the big play. Let’s take a look at some of Hoyer’s previous play-action throws.
Above, Hoyer play-fakes then rolls out to his left and hits the receiver where only he can get the ball, still with enough room to turn up the field and gain a few more yards.
After faking the handoff, Hoyer stands in the pocket and drops the ball in between three defenders. The well-placed throw again allows the receiver to turn up the field for a larger gain.
After this fake handoff, Hoyer shows off a bit of his arm strength and accuracy and drops a ~40 yd throw perfectly in the basket, again where only the receiver can make the play.
(Passes that travel more than 15 yards)
Many of the 49ers drives in the past have stalled out once reaching the end zone, causing them to either settle for a field goal or go for it on 4th down and even come away empty-handed. Efficiency is key once in the red zone; how often can you capitalize on the chances you get? Let’s take a look at a couple of Hoyer’s throws coming inside the red zone from last season.
On 2nd & goal, we see Hoyer drop back and deliver ~25 yard throw to his receiver for a touchdown. At first glimpse, it might appear as if the ball was thrown too high. However, if the ball is any lower it allows the defender to get a finger on it and either tip it away or flat out intercept the ball entirely. The ball was put where it needed to be, simple as that.
Again, we see Hoyer drop back and hit a receiver who has just a few yards separation from his defender. The ball placement is key here – too far behind and the receiver has to adjust and would allow the defender to catch up and make the play. The ball is put in front of the receiver, allowing him to catch it in stride and pick up more yards.
On 3rd & 9, we see Hoyer deliver another well-placed ball along the sideline that only his receiver is able to get.
I know what you’re thinking, “anyone can take a few plays and use them to fit their narrative.” Trust me, I’ve said the same thing before. However, all we have to go off of to predict the future is in fact, the past. So by analyzing Hoyer’s past, hopefully we are able to see a glimpse of what he is going to be able to do this year in San Francisco. I’m not saying that Hoyer is going to outplay Tom Brady this season, nobody is. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t still be productive and help this team win a few games. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have frequently stressed the fact that they want to challenge what is comfortable to them, and the fact that just because something is familiar, doesn’t mean it’s the right way to go. I would be foolish to believe they didn’t take this same approach when pondering signing Hoyer as their presumed starting quarterback this off-season.
[table id=1 /]
All in all, the 49ers are not going to be a team winning many shootouts this season, neither the offense nor defense is quite there yet. I believe San Francisco will rely heavily on the running game, as well as their defense to keep them in games. Hoyer is a placeholder, let’s not forget that for one second. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a productive placeholder and surpass our expectations of him. He has prior experience in a Kyle Shanahan-led offense and I believe that will show once the season starts.
Now, whether Brian Hoyer is a Pawn or a King? Well, it’s a little tricky because I have to say he’s neither. I’d say Hoyer is more of a Bishop. He isn’t anywhere near the King’s throne, but he isn’t a pawn on the front lines either. Hoyer is right in the middle, slightly above average if you ask me. However with that being said, I’d still much rather have a Bishop than a pawn and I am very grateful to have an experienced vet like Hoyer under center.
Out of Hoyer, Barkley, and Beathard, I believe Hoyer gives this team the best chance at winning immediately. Even if the 49ers go ahead and target a quarterback (whether in the draft or free agency next year) don’t be surprised if they keep Brian Hoyer to either groom the young gun or as a backup to a vet. However for now, as Birdman would say, put some damn RESPEK on the man’s name!