Before Thursday night, Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer were locked a race to the bottom, with neither establishing himself as either a solid starting QB or safe fantasy option. Hoyer has essentially won the quarterback battle by default because he was the incumbent starter.
The Browns' four preseason games were supposed to be when one of Manziel or Hoyer distanced himself from the other and looked like a capable NFL starter. Sure, these were meaningless games in the grand scheme of things, but they carried weight nonetheless.
That's what makes their performances as a whole so underwhelming.
Hoyer at least played like a starting QB tonight, even if it came against the Bears' second-string defense:
Hoyer did what he had to do v #Bears 2d team dee. Took them to TD. Ben Tate 1y run.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) August 29, 2014
Head coach Mike Pettine praised the veteran at halftime, per Tom Reed of The Plain Dealer:
Halftime interview from Ch. 3: Pettine on Hoyer: "“He was sharp, made some good throws, made the right reads.”— Tom Reed (@treed1919) August 29, 2014
Manziel didn't put up great numbers, missing on 11 of his 17 pass attempts, but he demonstrated why he's such a fun player to watch. Thursday's game had a little bit of everything from the rookie. ESPN's Adam Schefter thinks that it won't be long until Manziel unseats Hoyer as the starter:
Cleveland is going to have a hard time keeping Johnny Manziel on the bench for very long.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 29, 2014
With so much unpredictability still surrounding the Browns quarterbacks, you're probably better off avoiding the duo in your fantasy football drafts.
Looking at the passing game as a whole, you can't ignore the fact that Josh Gordon is out for the year, via SportsCenter:
Losing the 23-year-old leaves a massive hole in the offense. Gordon is the kind of wideout who can single-handedly elevate his quarterback:
Without All-Pro Josh Gordon, the Browns' wide receivers have a lot to prove this season. pic.twitter.com/JHjVQjWlOi— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 27, 2014
Last year, Browns QBs threw 9 TDs and 2 INTs when targeting Josh Gordon, and 17 TDs and 18 INTs when targeting all other players.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 27, 2014
Having Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, Travis Benjamin and Nate Burleson as your four best wide receivers is enough to sap the fantasy value out of even the best quarterback.
And as if that's not enough to scare you off, you have to consider the glaring issues surrounding Hoyer and Manziel.
Now that the Cleveland Browns' preseason is over, would you draft Johnny Manziel in standard fantasy leagues?
Hoyer's only good when he's on the field, and it's anybody's guess as to whether Pettine plans on keeping the veteran as the starter for the entire season. A few weeks into the season, he could be on the bench already.
The 28-year-old is a perfect waiver-wire option. Give it a few weeks. If Hoyer is still starting by Week 4 or 5 and playing well, then perhaps you should consider adding him to your team as a QB2 and matchup guy.
Manziel has more fantasy upside for this season, but with no timetable for his regular-season debut, drafting him would be a major gamble in standard leagues.
If anything, Manziel's stock has dropped as a result of the preseason. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks both gave Johnny Football a "C+" preseason grade before Thursday. Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles both finished in the "A" range, for what it's worth.
Brooks made the point that Manziel should embrace his versatile skill set and stop trying to play like a dropback passer:
Yes, he must master the verbiage of the playbook and core concepts of the passing game. But truthfully, Manziel needs to just cut it loose and quit worrying about playing a perfect game from the pocket. He's always been at his best when playing in sandlot fashion; it's impossible to expect him to become a high-level conventional passer after a brief offseason of work.
Part of Manziel's allure is his unpredictability and mobility, much like Robert Griffin III. When you put guys like that in the pocket and ask them to just stand there, something's wrong.
In keeper leagues, Johnny Football should be targeted for sure. He may even be worth a later mid-round pick with his massive ceiling. Over time, Manziel will figure out that balance between scrambling and getting rid of the football, in addition to becoming a more accurate passer.
If you're just playing in a standard league with 12-15 teams, though, let someone else take the risk. Manziel hasn't done enough to warrant a spot on your fantasy team.