Johnny Manziel 2014 Fantasy Football Outlook
Do we call him Johnny Cleveland? The drafting of Texas A&M superstar quarterback Johnny Manziel officially puts the Cleveland Browns back on the map. It does it so much, in fact, that many are talking about the Browns as a potential playoff contender the minute Manziel steps foot under center.
The Cleveland brass has been quite up front about the fact that Mr. Football won’t be handed anything as a rookie, though, and that especially includes the starting gig and the keys to Cleveland’s offense. With that said, there isn’t a more electrifying rookie quarterback than Manziel, and he might be the best pure talent in the entire draft – depending on who you talk to.
On the flip-side, he’s still of small stature and it’s at least questionable whether or not his unorthodox playing style will successfully transition to the NFL level. Being that he did dominate a rather tough SEC conference for two straight seasons, the early signs point to him being better than his harshest critics suggest.
But who cares about his long-term success as a true passer or whether or not the hapless Browns win games? Few outside of Cleveland, that’s for sure. Rather, all we really care about is whether or not his exciting brand of football can make him worth owning in fantasy football leagues right away in 2014.
Let’s break down the mystifying Manziel as we try to project what he can do for fantasy owners for the upcoming fantasy season:
Will His Skill-Set Translate?
Manziel’s main clear flaws are his small stature. He both lacks height and bulk. While it’s absolutely worth wondering if his small frame can handle the rigors of the league, it’s been proven on tape and through analysis that his height shouldn’t factor into his play too much at the next level. Other star quarterbacks finding success despite being 6’1″ or shorter make it even easier to buy into.
As a passer, Manziel is whimsical, yet accurate, while he too often abandons the pocket and takes off running. This can lead to unnecessary sacks, as well as him forcing the issue on the run. It can also cause him to miss open targets down the field. He’ll need to learn to stay in the pocket a little more, work through his progressions and keep defenses guessing as to what he’ll do and how he’ll react.
In that same breath, what makes Manziel a potential risk is also what makes him so great. Controlling his reaction to the pass rush, understanding defenses better and working on his footwork and pocket presence should do wonders for him at the next level. The best part is that he already visibly put work into improving some of his flaws from his freshmen year to 2013, and he got better as a passer from inside the pocket.
If the Browns do a good job of mixing up the offense with designed runs, some read-option and make sure to not put too much pressure on Manziel, he can absolutely have a big impact as a rookie.
Analyzing His Supporting Cast
Only a week ago, Manziel going to the Browns sounded awesome because Josh Gordon was still a rising star with even more upside than he already had put on display in a 1,600+ receiving yard season a year ago. The he got busted for pot, as it expected to miss 8-16 games. That leaves Manziel with a really shaky crop of wide receivers.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that he still has stud tight end Jordan Cameron. Cameron is a familiar type of target for Manziel, as he has terrific size and the leaping ability to get get jump balls. That makes him Manziel’s likely safety blanket to help move the chains, as well as the team’s top red-zone threat. If that all wasn’t the case already, it’s going to be so even more with Gordon out for most (if not all) of 2014.
Manziel also has a pretty solid group of running backs to lean on, and the Browns have already been pretty public about how their offense will be run in 2014. Unless Manziel comes out in week one and starts tearing it up, Cleveland is fully expected to operate a fairly run-heavy offense. Thankfully they have the depth and talent to do it.
Then there is the offensive system, in which new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan should set up to completely favor Manziel’s strengths. Considering Shanny deployed packages to make Robert Griffin III look like a beast as a rookie in 2012, it’s pretty reasonable to think Manziel has a chance to do some similar things. Manziel isn’t quite as fast as RG3, but he’s not all that far behind and is actually a more natural runner when it comes to agility and elusiveness. In Shanny’s system, Manziel could feast as a runner, especially given the talent he has at running back to help keep defenses honest.
Obviously not having Gordon is a huge blow to Manziel’s rookie fantasy ceiling. However, there is still enough here to think Manziel still could be quite productive as a rook.
Fantasy Value Summary
In summary, Manziel is a fine athlete, a heck of a talent and truly unlike any quarterback the NFL has seen, probably since the days of Fran Tarkenton. He’s not easy to defend thanks to his uncanny ability to keep plays alive, as well as his tendency to create something out of nothing.
He doesn’t have the weapons that will strike fear into the heart of opposing defenses, but his legs are weapons and he still has a solid group of backs, as well as a stud tight end. Just exactly what Shanahan does with the offense will tell us how far Manziel can ascend as a rookie. He’s not even the official starter for week one yet, but everyone in fantasy football is going to consider drafting the kid later in fantasy drafts.
He’s a must draft play in Dynasty leagues thanks to his long-term appeal, while he’s worth a flier in redraft leagues right now. He can’t be expected to be a weekly QB1 right away, but he’s sure to provide solid QB2 value and will have his random hot weeks.