Cleveland Browns: Breaking Down How Johnny Manziel Compares to Jeff Garcia

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Cleveland Browns: Breaking Down How Johnny Manziel Compares to Jeff Garcia
USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has been the subject of many frivolous headlines in his short career, but one recent story has finally provided some true football analysis. 

These waves came courtesy of NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks (via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com), who broke down Manziel's game on NFL.com's Around The League Podcast. According to Brooks, an unnamed league executive recently compared Manziel's style to former Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia:

(The executive) said, 'Envision Johnny Manziel playing like Jeff Garcia in San Francisco rather than the Doug Flutie or Fran Tarkenton comparison. Think about how Jeff Garcia played at his prime, at his best when Steve Mariucci was there. That's how I can see Johnny Manziel playing in the National Football League.

Prior to the draft, former MVP quarterback Rich Gannon also recognized the Manziel-Garcia comparison, as seen on the May 5 cover of Sports Illustrated:

Browns fans are likely to remember Garcia for his lone season in Cleveland, largely disappointing during his 11 starts in 2004. However, between 2000 and 2002 with the 49ers, Garcia was one of the most effective quarterbacks in the league. 

Given Manziel's unique abilities and football instincts, the Garcia comparison may actually prove to be a brilliant scenario for both Johnny Football and his new team. 

 

Physical Traits

Their paths to prominence could not be more different, but there's more to this comparison than most have given time to recognize.

Physically speaking, Garcia played with a similarly undersized frame at 6'1" and 195 pounds. Manziel is officially listed at 6'0" and 210 pounds in his own right. 

BEN MARGOT/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press
Never the biggest player on the field, Garcia gave San Francisco plenty of reasons to celebrate.

While the game has obviously changed since the early 2000s, Garcia did manage to remain durable throughout his early career. While his career took a turn for the worse after just his fifth season, it's important to remember that the quarterback was already 34 years old at this point. 

Garcia, of course, spent his first five professional seasons as a dominant dual-threat with the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders. This included four CFL All-Star selections and a Grey Cup championship (per JeffGarciaFootball.com).

Manziel will face no such struggle to see the field in his early career, but he'd surely like to match Garcia's ability to remain on an NFL roster until age 41.  

 

Playing Style

Manziel made his name in college for both his Houdini-like escape ability and penchant as a thrilling playmaker. While Garcia's athleticism never lifted him into the Heisman Trophy conversation, his NFL career did prove his ability to make plays with both his arm and his feet:

Jeff Garcia's Pro Bowl Run: 2000-2002
Pass Yards Pass TDs INTs Rush Yards Rush TDs
2000 4,278 31 10 414 4
2001 3,538 32 12 254 5
2002 3,344 21 10 353 3

pro-football-reference.com

NFL Network's Mike Mayock (via NFL.com) recognized Manziel's style as a sort of bridge into the league, buying him time to get comfortable in the pro game:

[Browns quarterback Brian] Hoyer can be the bridge if the Browns need a bridge. I think, because of Manziel's style, that he can play Day 1. This kid can make plays with his arm and legs until he learns how to be a pocket quarterback.

This would be preferable to following the offensive tendencies of a track-style runner such as Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III. Like Garcia, who was thrown into the fire following the career-ending injury of 49ers quarterback Steve Young, Manziel could simply use his natural skills to ease his transition. 

USA TODAY Sports
Manziel's ability to bail himself out was on full display during his college career.

Manziel's true magic has been made with spur-of-the-moment plays, after all, rather than a heavy reliance on designed rushes for the quarterback. Mike Tanier of SportsonEarth.com further broke down this difference prior to the NFL draft.  

 

Offensive Fit

The bulk of Brooks' original analysis involved his hypotheses on Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and how he plans to use Manziel. With Garcia's San Francisco golden years in mind, Brooks delved into Shanahan's potential plans:

I think when you look at what Kyle Shanahan has done, he has experience in the West Coast offense from his time with Gary Kubiak in Houston. I envision that offense looking very much like the Houston Texans' offense looked. When you have a lot of boot, rollout action, a lot of stretch runs.

While neither Kubiak nor Mariucci spent time directly under legendary 49ers head coach Bill Walsh, both were brought up under disciples of his coaching tree. Considering how Mariucci used Garcia many years ago, it's reasonable to believe that Shanahan is well versed in the same ideals. 

The video below is unfortunately shot from a fan cam, but it provides several clear examples of Garcia at work in that San Francisco offense:

Excellent examples include plays from 1:12-1:27, 2:42-2:50 and 4:12-4:39.

Principles of the West Coast offense are certainly familiar for Shanahan, as well as added experience with mobile quarterbacks from his time in Washington. By stealing principles from multiple systems, Brooks believes Shanahan can get the most out of Manziel's style:

When you look at the two running backs they have: Terrance West and Ben Tate, both of those guys come out of the zone-based running game. So as I'm connecting the dots, it leads me to believe they're going to run the zone-based system and they're going to have Johnny Manziel always sneak out the back door.

At his best, Garcia was one of the most productive quarterbacks in the NFL. To this day, Garcia is still the only quarterback in 49ers history with back-to-back seasons of more than 30 touchdowns, as well as the team's single-season leader in passing yards (4,278). 

History overlooks how impressive Garcia's early career was, but this comparison would leave the Browns with their best quarterback in a long time:

Without question, any sane fan in Cleveland would welcome multiple playoff berths to pair with Pro Bowl quarterback play.  

When utilized correctly, Garcia was a career winner that overcame his limitations with craftiness and pure desire. If Manziel matches that style with his advantage of youth, the Browns have finally found their franchise quarterback. 

 

All statistics and accolades according to Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise attributed. Tom Smeaton is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, primarily covering the San Francisco 49ers. He can be found on Twitter by following @ByTomSmeaton

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