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Brian Hoyer’s success will likely ride on the offensive line

We’re back with Bryan Knowles to talk what we can expect from Brian Hoyer.

We’re back with our third question with Football Outsiders! Every year, FO releases their Almanac that offers all sorts of nuggets for the coming season. And each year, we partner with them to get some questions answered in preparation for the upcoming season. This season, FO writer Bryan Knowles (who also writes for Niner Noise) took some time to answer questions we had.

I try and focus the questions on content in the Almanac, but we sometimes will get out beyond that since there is so much to consider each year. Bryan answered five questions, and we’ll have five posts on his responses. You can purchase a copy of the Almanac here.

Thus far, he has discussed Kyle Shanahan’s strategic tendencies in Atlanta, and what the 49ers defensive changes might mean for 2017. Today, we move back to the offensive side of the ball. I asked Bryan what the 49ers offense might be able to do with Brian Hoyer in place. More specifically, I asked, “[Hoyer] seems like a clear stop gap, but could the offense be decent in 2017 with him as the starting quarterback?”

Here’s what Bryan had to say.

That's going to depend on your definition of "decent.” We have the 49ers projected at -4.8% offensive DVOA, 23rd in the league. That's better than either the Tomsula or Kelly versions, but not quite to where they were under Harbaugh.

Hoyer did have success in Cleveland before the line fell apart, and his success in Chicago last season came behind another very strong offensive line; they ranked seventh in adjusted sack rate a year ago with a particularly great interior line. The 49ers did not have that kind of line (30th in adjusted sack rate) and didn't really bring in anyone to help boost it (especially now that Jeremy Zuttah's been released). They're counting on their young players to continue to develop in order to see improvement on the line – not unreasonable, considering the youth of Garnett and Brown, as well as considering all the other needs they had to try to fix. Still, though, I'm dubious they're going to get that much better in one season.

Hoyer's most successful when he has time and space to work in. He'll make good decisions with the ball when given that time, but he does wilt under pressure a bit. He also doesn't have the arm you'd ideally like for Shanahan's offense; he loves to have one deep threat (Andre Johnson, Pierre Garcon, Julio Jones) stretching the field on go routes and fades, stretching the defense and allowing a more traditional West Coast passing game to operate underneath. Hoyer doesn't hit those deep routes with regularity, limiting what the offense can really do. Hoyer's useful here because he knows the system, can help install it, and will provide low-level starting quarterback play for a very low cost; he's the best value of any QB in the league, non-rookie division. Jay Cutler gets $10 million? Joe Flacco gets $22? I'll take Hoyer at $6 million, thank you very much.