Browns Coach Mike Pettine made it clear who would be the starting quarterback Monday night when Cleveland heads to Washington to play the Redskins.
“It’s just something right now where we are comfortable with Brian [Hoyer] going out there to start the game,” Pettine said. “I think it’s a little overblown as to who the starter is going to be. The key component, as I’ve stated earlier this week, is that we are going to balance the reps. We will play it a little by ear as it goes on, we haven’t truly decided as far as the rotation but the goal is, for when we look at the stat sheet at halftime, that they both have the same amount of repetitions and hopefully they both get a good amount of work.”
This wouldn’t be an issue for most teams, except the Browns selected former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick in the 2014 draft, a quarterback who has been described as a combination of Fran Tarkenton and Doug Flutie in addition to being compared to Michael Vick and Brett Favre.
“Johnny has a lot of magic to him,” said Jon Gruden, the former Super Bowl-winning coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “There’s not a more exciting college football player I’ve seen in the last few years.”
Manziel, who threw for 67 yards and ran for another 27 yards in his preseason debut against the Detroit Lions, is a better bet to outplay Hoyer over the course of a season, but may have to wait to get his chance. But that chance will come, even if he isn’t ready right now.
A look at the quarterbacks selected in the first round from 2004 to 2013 shows that, more often than not, they end up starting at least half of the games in their rookie season. Of the 29 quarterbacks, 18 started at least eight games, including six who started every game. Only seven started fewer than five games and just five failed to start a single game during the season. One of those was Aaron Rodgers (2005), who was the backup to Brett Favre in his prime. Jake Locker (2011) was another, who held the clipboard for veteran Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee. Manziel has Hoyer, who has started four games in five seasons for three teams, ahead of him on the Cleveland depth chart.
To quantify quarterbacks, it is best to use adjusted yards gained per pass attempt, because it more closely mirrors what quarterbacks are supposed to do to win games. Adjusted net yards per attempt is defined as (Passing Yards + 20 * Passing Touchdowns – 45 * Interceptions) divided by Pass Attempts.
A majority of the rookie quarterbacks get their starts in the second half of the season. Below is the rolling three-game moving average of adjusted yards gained per pass attempt for the rookie class of the first round, and as you can see, there is a steady increase of starters with a corresponding drop in adjusted yards gained per pass attempt.
Part of the decline is because of the dilution of the talent pool, but those rookie quarterbacks that start the first three games of the season have outperformed those that haven’t, especially towards the end of the year.
“Johnny has definitely closed the gap. But Brian has gone out and done his job,” Pettine said after Saturday’s practice. “I’ve heard people say when you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have any. That’s laughable to me. When you have two quarterbacks, you have two quarterbacks.”
But when the choices are a first-round pick and a journeyman who has never won the starting job despite playing five seasons in the NFL, there can – and should – only be one.