Johnny Manziel may be first in the hearts of talking heads everywhere, but he’s not first on the depth chart in Cleveland -- at least not to start the season.
Head coach Mike Pettine announced Wednesday that Brian Hoyer will start for the Browns when they kick off the regular season against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. According to Pettine, Hoyer’s experience broke what had to be a tie based on the duo’s preseason performance.
“He was the clear leader from the beginning,” Pettine said in a statement. “We’ve maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room.”
As we’ve said here on SI.com for most of the summer, the ceiling for whomever would start for the Browns was low. With Josh Gordon’s status still up in the air, this team has one of the least inspiring groups of receivers, led by Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins. Both Hoyer and Manziel looked terrible in Washington over the weekend, and that was with Gordon on the field.
It always made sense for Manziel to sit at first, even if he does eventually take over as the starter this season. Hoyer could be the better choice for the Browns to win right now, and given the team’s strong defense and potentially sound running game, they could sneak up on some people in the AFC. A quarterback who is transitioning to the NFL isn’t necessarily the best fit for such a team.
Having said that, Hoyer is a career backup with all of four starts under his belt -- three of which came with the Browns last year. If he struggles -- and the Browns first three games are against the Steelers, Saints and Ravens -- the Johnny Football era could begin after the Browns’ Week 4 bye.
Pettine selecting Hoyer to start shouldn’t impact the draft status of either the veteran quarterback or Manziel all that much. It already wasn’t advisable to use any more than a late-round flier on either of them, and that remains true even with the news that Hoyer will start Week 1. Both would receive a slight value bump if it turns out the Gordon’s suspension is reduced, but without that you don’t want Hoyer or Manziel as anything more than a backup quarterback.
Interestingly enough, the player whose value increased the most is tight end Jordan Cameron. In the two games Hoyer started and finished last year, Cameron had 16 catches on 23 targets for 157 yards and four touchdowns.