One of the biggest keys to becoming a successful fantasy football owner is making smart picks in the later rounds of your draft, and there is no better quarterback sleeper in 2014 than Cleveland Browns rookie Johnny Manziel.
Manziel is already fighting for the starting job as Cleveland enters the second week of the preseason, and there are many experts, including Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, who believe the first-year player is closing the gap on incumbent starter Brian Hoyer.
Fantasy football guru Michael Fabiano of NFL.com views Manziel as a legitimate sleeper this season:
The Browns have yet to make their decision about which player will get the nod as the starter to begin the season, but fantasy drafts are already kicking into high gear. Owners don’t have time to wait for Cleveland's decision and must take the educated risk.
At an average draft position in the 12th round, according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Manziel is being drafted in the same range as veterans like Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Carson Palmer.
Even if Manziel doesn’t get the start in Week 1, Browns fans will call for Johnny Football as soon as Hoyer begins to struggle. With top wide receiver Josh Gordon likely suspended for the entire season, the incumbent's struggles could begin immediately.
When asked about the quarterback competition, Browns head coach Mike Pettine told ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike (h/t CBSSports.com) about what will go into the decision and the main goal of the choice:
I have two guys that know quarterback play really well in Kyle Shanahan and Dowell Loggains. And we'll sit down, the three of us, probably include Ray Farmer as well so he can hear us debate it back and forth. It's all going to come down to who can give us the best chance to win a football game. And we're not going to feel pressure -- I know there's the external pressure of a lot of people want to see the rookie out there. We understand that. But we're in the football business here and we have to make the decision we feel is best for the Cleveland Browns.
If Pettine’s word is true, Manziel must be the starter in Week 1 of the regular season. He is the more talented of the two quarterbacks and should be the No. 1 if he proves that he has learned and understands Cleveland’s playbook.
You will look like a genius for snagging a talented player like Manziel in the later rounds of your fantasy draft.
The difference between Manziel and Hoyer or the other quarterbacks like Manning, Flacco and Palmer being selected in fantasy drafts around him is Manziel's ability to use his legs to break the pocket and pick up vital yardage.
While most football fans see the 7,820 passing yards and 63 touchdowns in two seasons at Texas A&M as Manziel’s crowning collegiate achievement, the numbers he tallied on the ground are even more impressive.
He ran the ball 345 times over two years for 2,169 yards, 30 touchdowns and an average of 6.3 yards per carry.
Yards will be much harder to come by in the NFL, but Manziel has already shown in his first preseason game that he can move the ball with his legs. Against the Detroit Lions on Aug. 9, Manziel threw for 63 yards and ran for another 27 yards.
Fantasy owners who take the educated risk on Manziel will be banking on his legs to make up for the lackluster weapons around him in the passing attack.
While he may not rack up huge touchdown totals through the air, he would score six points on the ground for every rushing touchdown in standard fantasy leagues. On the other hand, quarterbacks only get four points for every passing touchdown.
If you’re an owner with one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL—Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers—why not take the educated risk on a late-round pick who could blossom into a valuable trade chip moving forward?
At the very least, Manziel should be a viable bye-week fill-in.
Stats via NFL.com.