The Time Is Now For Johnny Football
FINALLY, Johnny Manziel will get his chance in Cleveland. I’m not sure about everybody else but that’s exactly how I imagine Manziel saying the word “finally.” After three straight games without a passing touchdown and seven interceptions totaled by Brian Hoyer over that span, Browns Coach Mike Pettine announced that Johnny Football will get the start against the Bengals in Week 15. Most Fantasy owners are going to run to their waiver wires to add the polarizing figure, and that would be a smart move.
Of course one of the main concerns with Manziel stepping in is how this is going to affect Josh Gordon, and rightfully so. Follow me while I proceed to blow your mind…
Player A: 6’5”, 231 pounds, 4.53 40-yard dash, 37-inch vertical leap
Player B: 6’4”, 225 pounds, 4.52 40-yard dash, 36-inch vertical leap
The lone hint is that Player A played with Manziel in the past and Player B plays with Manziel now. (Submit your guesses now)
Player A is Mike Evans and Player B is Josh Gordon.
But Frank, why are you showing us the combine results of Mike Evans? Well, Evans played with Johnny Football in college at Texas A&M and likely has him to thank for being drafted so high. The bottom line is Manziel knows exactly how to work with a big receiver (as we can see by their ridiculously similar logistics). Evans hauled in nearly 1,400 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in just 13 games with Manziel under center. Although it was college, where the competition isn’t as potent, that was just a sample size of what can be done.
Any time a quarterback change is made from a guy completing just 55-percent of his passes (Hoyer), it’s going to benefit the receivers. With Manziel taking over, Gordon’s value receives a slight uptick. He likely won’t receive more than his usual 10-15 targets per game, but the plays will be more efficient now. Manziel’s ability to throw on the run and sell the play-action pass gives this Browns’ offense an element they haven’t had yet this season. Gordon should get more views in the end zone as well, and after seeing what the Steelers did to the Bengals last week, it’s probably best to leave him in your lineups as a low-end WR1.
The football cliché about rookie quarterbacks targeting tight ends is often one that is completely true. Tight ends are known as QB safety blankets that run simple routes and get to the necessary spots on the field to help their offense. The Browns, with Manziel taking over, should be no different. As seen in the drive against the Bills; Manziel hit Jim Dray over the middle on a sweet play-action pass. There is no doubt Jordan Cameron will be involved in this offense, assuming he’s healthy. In the back of Manziel’s mind, he knows he has to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers to have the best chance at victory. It would be wise for him to get Cameron involved early in these upcoming matchups. He should be viewed as a low-end TE1 in the Manziel led offense.
The coupling of Kyle Shanahan and Manziel in this offense is a match made in heaven. There are so many parallels between what this Browns offense can do and what Shanahan did with the Redskins offense in 2012, when Robert Griffin III won Rookie of the Year and led his team to the playoffs. RGIII and Manziel both exited college with experience in a spread offense, which featured the zone read as a key component. Both are freak athletes as well, with Griffin running a 4.41 40-yard dash and Manziel running a 4.56. During Griffin’s rookie campaign he led the NFL in multiple rushing categories, being first in yards, second in touchdowns, and third in attempts. The Redskins were also first in the NFL in giveaways that year but Shanahan isn’t going to put Manziel in a position to turn the ball over.
That high-octane rushing attack was definitely helped by the discovery of a gold mine in then-rookie running back Alfred Morris. To be fair, both Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell could hold their own in that department as well. The Browns actually rank second in rushing touchdowns this season, even with Hoyer at the helm. Manziel’s experience in running the read option in college is going to translate to the NFL. This unique offensive scheme isn’t something that can be taught easily at the professional level. Read option quarterbacks have to learn how to read defensive fronts, and must have lightning-quick decision-making. Judging by Manziel’s success at the college level in terms of both rushing and passing, I would say he is in the upper echelon of read-option quarterbacks, which will only help the running backs.
Do you ever wonder why Alfred Morris’ numbers are so much greater when RGIII is under center? In case you don’t, it’s because of the fear Griffin imposes on opposing defenses. Even in 2014, a season in which Griffin has not performed well, Morris still benefits greatly from his presence. In the four games with Griffin at the helm for the game’s entirety, Morris had 404 total rushing yards with three touchdowns on 74 attempts. That averages out to just over 100 yards on the ground per game at 5.46 yards per carry. This is no coincidence. When defenses have to account for a quarterback who can make plays with his legs, constantly lining up in that read-option scheme, running backs are going to benefit. Being able to freeze a defensive front for that split second is all a guy like Crowell or West needs to make big plays happen. It also was no coincidence that during Manziel’s drive against the Bills, Crowell was able to pick up his longest run of the day, which went for 11 yards. I certainly expect this trend to continue, making Crowell a legitimate RB2 and West a flex option during the Fantasy playoffs. Neither of these running backs is Le’Veon Bell, but the Bengals proved they aren’t exactly a formidable defense after last week. There will be opportunities in Week 15 for the Browns’ running backs to succeed. The only thing that might hold them back is the fact that they split carries. That’s why neither can be considered more than a RB2 at this point.
There is no denying that Johnny Football is an offensive machine. He is extremely savvy, and despite people’s conceptions about his personality or antics off the field, his football IQ is through the roof. We’re talking about a player that accounted for at least 46 total touchdowns in each of his two years at Texas A&M. He turned in 26 passing touchdowns and 21 rushing touchdowns in his freshman year to take the league by storm, winning the Heisman trophy. Perhaps he heard some of the whispers about his inability to throw the ball rather than run it between his freshman and sophomore year. No problem. He increased his completion percentage by nearly two points, reaching 69.9-percent. He also threw for over 400 more yards and 11 more passing touchdowns than the previous season.
Look, whether you like the kid or you hate him, he is a gamer. He is the type of athlete that will go out there and try to prove all of his critics wrong. Manziel become Fantasy relevant immediately with his statistical floor being above average, just based on his skillset. His ability to rush the ball is unmatched by any other quarterback (except maybe Russell Wilson?) and that means big Fantasy points. I would understand why owners don’t want to risk starting him in the playoffs or during their Fantasy championship but there are a few guys you can plug him in over immediately based on matchups:
Ryan Tannehill @ New England Patriots
Andy Dalton @ Cleveland Browns
Joe Flacco vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Manziel is a low-end QB1 in 14 or 16-team leagues and should absolutely be owned in any two-quarterback leagues or dynasty/keepers. Don’t get cute and throw him out there over the quarterbacks that have brought you this far but know this: his presence will make those around him better.
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