San Francisco 49ers: Hoyer Probably Shouldn’t Be the Presumed Starter

Oct 20, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer (2) warms up before game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 20, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer (2) warms up before game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco 49ers have been a wreck under center the last couple of seasons, but shouldn’t expect Brian Hoyer to solve those problems.

The reasons for the San Francisco 49ers shortcomings and failings the last few seasons are legion. A lack of depth, a lack of decent coaching, and an absolute lack of talent has doomed this proud franchise to the cellar – a place they are going to have a hard time escaping anytime soon. Especially if they can’t get competent quarterback play.

Nowhere has the glaring lack of talent, fit, and depth been more apparent for the 49ers than under center. The quarterback turmoil can’t all be put on Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert though – having to change coaches and systems three times in three years is going to have some negative blowback.

But if the 49ers can’t get competent play under center – and soon – San Francisco’s hard times are going to continue.

GM John Lynch and HC Kyle Shanahan have a massive task ahead of them. Having to rebuild this organization from the ground up is going to take some time. Rome, after all, was not built in a day. But they can take some positive steps forward by developing a young quarterback who’s flashed some real potential.

The rub is that perhaps, they already have him on the roster – and it’s not Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer is the quarterback Lynch and Shanahan pursued the hardest in free agency – though it remains to be seen why. Though, given the dearth of talent on the free agent market, along with the big question marks on this year’s quarterback draft class, perhaps they believed Hoyer was the best they could do.

Yeah, Hoyer had a relatively decent 2016 season numbers-wise, on an absolutely horrible Chicago Bears team. 67 percent completion rate for 1,445 yards, six touchdowns, and zero picks. His QB rating was a pretty decent 98.0. Statistically speaking, he wasn’t horrible in 2016.

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Although, if you look at the numbers over Hoyer’s career, 2016 seems to be the outlier, rather than the norm. For his career, Hoyer is 16-15 as a starter, has a 59 percent completion rate, has thrown 44 touchdowns to just 26 picks, and a QB rating of 84.8.

Though his touchdown to interception ratio is pretty good, it’s hard to make an argument that over his career, Hoyer has been anything but – average. At best. And at 31 years old, it’s unlikely that he’s going to be getting any better.

However, the interesting move the 49ers made was in securing Hoyer’s backup in Chicago – Matt Barkley – to be their presumptive backup in San Francisco. And it’s perhaps Barkley, not Hoyer, who should be getting the longer look as the potential starter for the 49ers.

Barkley had a tremendous career at USC – though a disastrous senior campaign dropped him from consensus number one overall pick to the fourth round where he was taken by Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles.

And if there was ever a marriage made in hell, it was Barkley and Kelly. The reasons he took Barkley are still mind-boggling, several years after the fact.

San Francisco 49ers
Jan 1, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Matt Barkley (12) celebrates his touchdown reception during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

Barkley’s strengths are as a pocket passer and he couldn’t be a worse fit for a system than Kelly’s if he’d tried.

And perhaps, because of his exposure to Kelly – and the fact he was never developed as an NFL prospect by the coach who drafted him – Barkley hasn’t really ever had the chance to carve out a niche for himself.

He’s got talent, he just needs opportunity. Playing at high profile powerhouse like USC, Barkley set a number of school records and finished with a 64 percent completion rate, 12,327 yards, 116 touchdowns against 48 interceptions, and a ridiculous QB rating of 147.8.

So, it’s not like Barkley is without any shred of talent.

What he needs is guidance and development – two things Kelly was never known for. Kelly was a plug and play guy, he never took the time to actually develop young talent. And it’s that handicap, rather than a lack of talent, that has derailed Barkley’s career to this point.

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And it should be Barkley, not Hoyer, who should be heading into camp with a leg up on the starting job. Because let’s face it, at some point, Hoyer is likely going to be moved out of the starting lineup and Barkley will be playing anyway. Why not just start him from the jump and cut out that annoying middleman?

Oh, but Hoyer is familiar with Shanahan’s system, which gives him a distinct advantage over Barkley. But does it? Does it really?

Let’s look back at 2014, the year Hoyer and Shanahan were in Cleveland together. That year, Hoyer made 13 starts, going a 7-6. He completed just 55 percent of his passes for 3,326 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. His QB rating that year was a paltry 76.5.

Not exactly the stuff of legends, there – and actually, more in line with his career stats than the outlier that his 2016 season in Chicago was.

Of course, all of this Barkley versus Hoyer debate is moot if Shanahan and Lynch are simply planning on playing out the string this year and adding more talent to the roster while chasing Kirk Cousins next year. Which is a distinct possibility.

However, if the Cousins to San Francisco deal doesn’t actually come to fruition, it would behoove the organization to have a Plan B in place. And that Plan B could be letting a young talent like Barkley grow and develop.

If Cousins doesn’t come to the Bay Area after all, they’ll already have a young guy with a year of experience in Shanahan’s system under his belt. And if Cousins does come, at worst, they have a quarterback who’s better developed and either a reliable backup or a valuable trade commodity.

Now on his sixth team in eight pro seasons, Hoyer is a journeyman quarterback who hasn’t really distinguished himself anywhere along the way. We’ve seen his ceiling and truth be told, it’s not all that high.

But, the argument can be made that we’ve barely even begun to scratch the surface with Barkley. And who knows what we might find underneath. If this is going to be a lost year in the Bay Area anyway, why not give it a chance? The results could be very surprising.

Barkley has talent – all he needs is opportunity.