Johnny Football entered the NFL as a first-round pick with plenty of hype surrounding him, but Browns head coach Mike Pettine decided to tab veteran Brian Hoyer as his starter to begin the 2014 campaign, according to the team's official Twitter account:
BREAKING: Brian Hoyer to lead Browns, named starting quarterback. pic.twitter.com/EGKWJ5t2pZ— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 20, 2014
That disappointed many fantasy owners who were expecting big things out of the Texas A&M product this year. Based on Manziel's upside and the possibility of him taking over the starting job sooner rather than later, though, he still belongs on fantasy radars.
Perhaps the biggest reason for that is Cleveland's difficult schedule at the beginning of the season. As pointed out by Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network, things get much easier for the Browns after the first month and a half of play:
Browns schedule thru Week 6? 8th toughest. After? T-27th. Open w/ aggressive row of DCs: LeBeau, Rob Ryan, Dean Pees, Ray Horton, LeBeau— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) August 20, 2014
If Hoyer struggles during that tough stretch, then the door will be open for Manziel to take over. In fact, the fans may demand it to the point that Pettine won't be able to ignore them any longer.
Patrick Daugherty of Rotoworld is among those who view Manziel as a far better option already considering how much Hoyer has struggled during the preseason:
Manziel hasn't looked good, is a 21-YO rookie. Hoyer hasn't looked good, is a 28-YO journeyman. I know who I'd give the benefit of the doubt— Patrick Daugherty (@RotoPat) August 19, 2014
In many ways, this situation parallels the one that the Denver Broncos went through in 2011. Kyle Orton began that season as the starter with Tim Tebow behind him. Orton was mediocre through the first few games, so head coach John Fox was ultimately forced to turn to Tebow.
While Tebow obviously had his shortcomings, he went 7-4 as Denver's starter and led the Broncos to the playoffs. In addition to that, Tebow was a surprisingly productive fantasy player.
According to NFL.com, Tebow was the No. 18 fantasy quarterback in terms of total points that year despite starting just 11 contests. On a per-start basis, he averaged over 18 points per game, which would have given him roughly 288 points extrapolated over a 16-start slate.
Manziel and Tebow don't represent a like-for-like comparison, but they have several similarities. Johnny Football is clearly a much better passer, but he is also more mistake-prone due to his propensity for taking chances. Where Manziel and Tebow really excel, though, is in the running game.
Rushing quarterbacks can really rack up points in standard formats due to the fact that a point is given for every 10 yards rushing versus every 25 yards passing. Also, a rushing touchdown is worth six points, while a passing score is worth four. All of those points tend to add up quickly.
Also, much like Tebow, there has been some talk about Manziel getting playing time even as a backup. Per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, Pettine is considering installing some packages for Manziel in order to keep opposing defenses off balance:
(Playing two quarterbacks) does have a big effect on your prep time (as a defensive coordinator). Usually when you do have those situations, they are different (quarterbacks). I just go back to when we were getting ready to play the Niners a couple of years ago with (Colin) Kaepernick and Alex Smith, it was two very different offenses and the hard part of it is, you might only get a handful of plays from the other quarterback, but just the amount of time it takes—because if you don't prepare for it, you have a chance to look very unprepared and give up some big plays.
Whether or not Pettine utilizes Manziel in that manner, the fact that he is even thinking about it suggests that he knows Johnny Football could bring another dimension to Cleveland's moribund offense.
Is Manziel worth a selection in fantasy football drafts?
It wasn't long ago that a rookie signal-caller being a fantasy commodity was unthinkable, but the game changed two years ago when Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson all stepped in immediately and produced.
Those guys may be the exception rather than the rule, but they proved that first-year passers can excel despite the learning curve.
Manziel's style is quite similar to RG3's, and it just so happens that his offensive coordinator in Cleveland is Kyle Shanahan. That is the same Kyle Shanahan who was the Washington Redskins' offensive coordinator during Griffin's excellent rookie campaign.
Even when it was thought that Manziel might begin 2014 as the Browns' starter, nobody was drafting him as a fantasy starter. His stock has dropped since being named backup, and that makes him an even more attractive selection at the end of the draft.
For fantasy owners with slam-dunk starters like Peyton Manning, Rodgers or Brees, Manziel is worth a late-round flier. If he takes the starting job and excels, then he instantly becomes a trade chip.
Even owners with less certainty at quarterback should consider Manziel if their signal-caller has a bye week after Week 6, which is when Manziel could conceivably take the reins.
Players selected in the closing rounds of a draft are lottery tickets that often don't pay out. There are far worse players than Manziel to gamble on, and he could ultimately prove to be an all-time steal.
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