The San Francisco 49ers have plenty of questions, but arguably the most regular point of discussion this offseason has been the quarterback position. The team signed veteran free agents Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, drafted C.J. Beathard, and signed rookie free agent Nick Mullens. They replaced the entire unit, but questions remain about the future.
While the long-term option remains in flux, the 49ers have seemingly found a perfectly decent option for the short term. Brian Hoyer is far from the first name people will mention as a capable quarterback, but in limited action, he has done some quality things, including with Kyle Shanahan.
NFL Media analyst Elliott Harrison wrote about one big question for each team as the summer approaches. For the 49ers, he asked why people are sleeping on Brian Hoyer.
Does it seem like a lot of fans own a dim view of the 49ers' starting quarterback? Maybe they don't take ownership of it, because it's not entirely based on fact -- but nobody seems to think he can play. Hoyer might not be the long-term solution, but he doesn't come up short in a lot of categories. You can start with character and attitude, pitfalls of the guy he backed up in Chicago. The statistics are there, as well -- bolstered by the fine season he had in a pinch for John Fox's Bears. Last year, Hoyer threw six touchdown passes against zero interceptions, while averaging more than 300 passing yards per start until he got hurt against the Packers. For his career, the former Patriot, Steeler, Cardinal, Brown, Texan and Bear has tossed 44 touchdowns vs. 26 interceptions. While his completion percentage isn't where you would like it to be (59.5), his yards-per-attempt mark is solid (7.2), meaning he is not afraid to throw downfield. The 49ers drafted C.J. Beathard. He'll duke it out with Matt Barkley for backup duties. Maybe GM John Lynch goes hard after Kirk Cousins next March. But don't let that -- and one spectacularly awful playoff game -- cause you to see Hoyer in an unfair light.
The 49ers are still a ways from being a playoff contender. They don’t want to waste the offensive talent they have brought in, but they still have plenty of work in front of them. If there had been a clear quarterback option at No. 2 or in free agency, then that would make sense. However, Kirk Cousins was not available at a reasonable trade price, and Kyle Shanahan was not sold on any of this year’s first round draft options.
Given Hoyer’s success with Shanahan, and last year before getting hurt, he is an ideal bridge quarterback for the 49ers. They do need an answer on the other end of that bridge. It could be C.J. Beathard, Kirk Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, one of the potentially many first round options in next year’s draft, or some mystery option. Long-term, Kyle Shanahan was brought in to figure out that option as part of the 49ers broader rebuilding process.
In the meantime, Hoyer is a guy who can help implement the offense initially, and get them on the road back to respectability. He was purely a backup his first five seasons, but then got a chance to lead the Cleveland Browns in 2014, with Kyle Shanahan as his OC. He only completed 55.3 percent of his passes, but threw for 3,326 yards, with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
His game log featured some really quality performances, but inconsistency was a big issue. Of course, his top receivers that year were Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Miles Austin. I’d argue he has better receiving options. The big question is how the offensive line will perform. Things fell apart in Cleveland when Alex Mack went down with an injury. Jeremy Zuttah could be their poor man’s answer to Mack, but training camp will tell us more about how the depth chart will shake out.
Hoyer spent last season in Chicago, and in six games put together some solid numbers. He took over for Jay Cutler in Week 2, and in six appearances (five starts) before breaking his thumb, Hoyer completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,445 yards, with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Given that Hoyer only has limited starting experience over his eight year career, which raises some questions. At the same time, you could argue his low ceiling and high floor mean there really aren’t major questions in the context of the 49ers current status. The 49ers are not looking at him as a long-term solution. He’s a perfectly capable option for 2017, and could be fine in 2018 if the team continues trying to develop a younger option over signing a veteran like Kirk Cousins.