Making the case for the Cleveland Browns and Johnny Manziel

This may now require a trade

This may now require a trade

It’s a divisive topic. Every time anything hits the WFNY Facebook page regarding Johnny Manziel, there’s an immediate split among fans who love the idea of Johnny Manziel becoming a Cleveland Brown and those who are as opposed to it as if Johnny Manziel is a fierce combination of Ryan Leaf, Mark Sanchez, Michael Vick and Matt Leinart. The truth is that nobody knows for sure how Johnny Manziel will do as an NFL quarterback, but I’m ready to make the case that he can be a good one, worthy of Browns fans’ hopes and dreams for a franchise quarterback.

Before doing this, I must acknowledge exactly what I don’t know: I’m not an NFL scout or top level personnel man; I’m not privy to all the information that the Cleveland Browns should and will have about J. Football by the time the draft arrives. I won’t have the first-hand experience of being at one of his games, workouts or personal interviews to see how he handles himself.1  The Browns may very well find an immature, punk kid who isn’t, and never will be, ready to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. I can’t, however, will myself to that notion from my spot way out here. Even still, should Manziel pass those personality tests and keep himself from being barred from the draft board, I can make the case that he will be a very good selection in the NFL draft for the Cleveland Browns.

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“The son of a longtime high school coach, Pettine
signed a five-year contract to coach  the Browns.
(Insert your own joke if you still  have the desire.)
Whether or not he is still  the coach at the end of
those five years will  largely depend on the
quarterback that lines  up under center for him.
To his credit, Pettine  didn’t downplay the
importance of the position.”

Pettine’s arrival likely means an upgrade
at linebacker

“One thing that has been a hallmark for defenses
under Mike Pettine has been inside linebacker. When
he was with Rex Ryan in Baltimore, that  meant Ray
Lewis. When he and Ryan went to the  Jets, Pettine
is reportedly the man who wanted Bart Scott—badly.”

Johnny Manziel is about as fiery and competitive as anyone I have ever watched. In Texas A&M’s bowl game against Duke this past December, he was making me nervous as he started screaming on the sidelines. At first I thought he was having a selfish meltdown; then I realized what he was doing. He wasn’t attacking his teammates at all. He was encouraging them and trying to fire them up. He was trying to will them to victory. After taking a 38-17 deficit into halftime, that’s just what he did. Manziel played a game where he accounted for more than 450 yards of offense and five touchdowns. He seemed to provide some fuel to his defense. Yes, that very unit gave up 48 points to Duke, but that defense ended up scoring the game-winning touchdown and hauled in an interception to let Johnny Manziel kneel out the clock with 1:19 left. Does that kind of thing even translate to the NFL? Not exactly the same way, but I have a tough time putting that in any kind of debit side of the ledger when looking at Manziel as a prospect.

A lot of detractors will say that Johnny Manziel is too small and runs too much. “He’ll get killed in the NFL,” they say. I watched some of his games in their entirety, especially the 2013 game against LSU where he took a lot of hits and was bottled up.2 It scares me to think of Johnny Manziel playing a lot of football games with designed runs.

What I choose to see in that game is that Manziel wasn’t completing a lot of his passes, but against that top-tier defense he can play a pure passing game. Early in that game before he started running option plays and designed runs, I saw a guy who used his mobility only to buy time before firing passes. I saw a guy who excelled at getting the ball out on timing patterns even if they weren’t going his way and being caught along the sidelines. With the right coaching and scheming, I can’t help but think a mobile quarterback is still a big benefit as long as it’s used the right way. The NFL is full of cautionary tales for running quarterbacks, but it’s also filled with a history of mobile QBs who used their abilities to be that much more deadly as passers.

Athleticism and mobility are almost seen like a scarlet letter for quarterbacks, and I think that’s wrong for Johnny Manziel. I think it’s wrong because when I think of Manziel’s career, I think of him being a real quarterback, progressing through options and firing the ball. He’s far more Andrew Luck than Michael Vick. With Manziel, I see a guy who has an understanding of the game and plays it very instinctively, but “instinct” is probably a misnomer. In the case of quarterbacks, instinct is really muscle memory from massive amounts of training and preparation.

Despite Manziel’s reputation as a distracted party boy, when he’s between the lines, I always get the sense that he understands the game in front of him. Even as a play breaks down and he’s buying himself time with his legs, he seems to know where all the receivers should be or are going to be. That’s the kind of thing that comes with training, practice, and an ability to understand the game. You can never guarantee that the NFL game is going to “slow down” for every prospect, but I have a good sense that it can for Johnny Manziel with time.

As I said, none of this is to say that Manziel will pass all the tests that the Browns put before him to determine he’s a worthy draft target. It’s also not a lock that they’ll find a way to get Johnny Football with their assets and abilities on draft day. Assuming that he doesn’t set off warning bells and whistles for Michael Lombardi and Ray Farmer, I think there’s a reasonable case to be made that Johnny Manziel is a decent Draft Day bet for the Cleveland Browns.

(Photo by HesslerStudios)

  1. I will presumably have a segment on ESPN with Jon Gruden to watch, but that’s just not the same thing. []
  2. When considering a guy for your NFL team, it seems important to look at a tough game. One of the games that convinced me that Trent Richardson was going to be good was a game against Penn State when T-Rich went against a loaded box all day long and kept chipping away until he wore them down. So, it doesn’t always work… []

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Before being drafted by the Browns: Flying J
    After being drafted by the Browns: Crashing J

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If they can maximize those first three draft picks then I wouldn’t have a problem with them using some of the remaining assets. Just as long as they finally have a draft that nets some talented players who can produce sooner rather then later.

    I mean the Cavaliers have had assets and look how well that’s worked out especially this year?

  • RGB

    Hopefully they’ll be gone.
    But, I have a feeling that if Slick Jimmy thinks Manziel will be gone, he’ll trade all our picks, a dump truck of Flying J discount vouchers, and his Peyton Manning autographed game worn jockstap to move up.

  • Harv 21

    yeah, but if they trade this year’s #3 and #4 for someone’s #2 and #3 they have to make that deal. Right? Or maybe this year’s second rounder for the carcass of Kellen Winslow Jr.

    Lord, I’m really having trouble getting up for the draft knowing that Lombardi and Banner hold the team’s tender future in their clumsy stevedore hands.

  • I continue to go back and forth on Manziel. While he is very entertaining to watch, I’m not sure I could handle 16 weeks of that. I also keep going back to the line from Youngblood about how “you can’t hit what you can’t catch.” Manziel is fast, but people are going to be able to catch him at the NFL level and that’s a concern.

    Not worried about the off the field nonsense, because we really don’t know how much of that is blown out or proportion because of who he is. And much of what he did can be attributed to being a college student. Most people outgrow that and there’s no reason to think that Manziel won’t as well.

    If he is there at No. 4 I wouldn’t necessarily be upset if the Browns selected him. I really do not want them to trade up, though, even as important as the QB position is, because none of these guys are sure things. And the Browns still have so many, many holes to fill and that’s before they create new ones once free agency hits.

    If the Browns can put the right system around him and keep him healthy, Manziel could be the answer at quarterback. If not? Well, it’s not like we haven’t been down that road before.

  • humboldt

    A nicely chosen metaphor that is itself loaded with pain and pathology from the Crennell-Frye-Anderson era.

  • Toddyus

    Scares me, too, but in the same way a flush in my hand scares me in hold ’em when there’s a pair on the board. Always a chance the other guy’s got a full house.

    Most times, I’m making that bet. If I lose, I actually feel better than if I didn’t make the bet and would have won.

  • Toddyus

    If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person. you could make a case that if the guy has this much situational awareness and football smarts when he’s “distracted,” he’s still got a lot in reserve. The right coach and peer dynamic could bring that out of him. Not sure if I’m that glass-half-full guy in this situation, though…

  • Toddyus

    Agree with all your points except the rich kid aspect.

    How many kids come from nothing, get a big payday in the NFL and just about quit? I don’t mind the rich kid thing as much, because he already knows what it’s like to have money. If money’s all he were after, he would have plenty of opportunities without risking his health playing football. I would venture a guess that the personal pride is a bigger driver for him.

  • Toddyus

    Interesting suggestion. Pick up Manziel with the first pick, McCarron with the third (when’s our fourth pick…) Talk about hedging your bets. Those two couldn’t be more opposite.

  • nj0

    Now that I think about this, professional athletes are in a somewhat unique position as one of the few (only?) ultra wealthy work forces who still get tested for recreational drugs. For all their wealth and fame, they’ve got pretty high standards to live up to.

  • nj0

    For the life of me, I thought Mangini flipped the coin. Getting my failed Browns coaches confused…..

  • humboldt

    -Butch Davis flipped out.
    -Romeo Crennel flipped the coin for his QB.
    -Phil Savage flipped the bird to a fan in an email.
    -Eric Mangini’s GM (George Kokinis) flipped out worse than Butch Davis.
    -Pat Shurmur was flipping incompetent.
    -Rob Chudinski’s QB (Weeden) had a talent for flipping backhand rainbow passes.

    Hopefully Mike Pettine can flip the script?

  • Not to be Bayless-esque, but even that pic projecting this kid in a Browns uni makes my stomach turn. And it’s not just that he strikes me as a bit of a cocky little s.o.b. , because with the success he had so young in what is purported to be the best college football conference in the land, I think it’d be near-miraculous not to feel good about oneself. And it’s not the LBJ stink on him, though it does scream of a guy whose priority might not be what happens on the field–he’s got some “global icon” about him for sure. Without knowing the kid firsthand, that’s all just projecting my own interpretations on him. No, the big reason for my aversion to this guy leading the team I love is the play against Auburn this past season that ended with him getting driven down on his shoulder.

    To me, the hit isn’t even the worst of it in projecting things forward to the NFL. That hit was nothing compared to what the big boys will do to you at full speed on Sundays. The whole play bothers me: running when he had no need to (yes, he’s fast, but that opening he goes for won’t be there near as long next fall), an utter disregard for ball security, and no attempt to save his body when it was clear he wasn’t breaking through the tacklers. Sloppy play like that, in which he decides to rely solely on his athleticism may have made for some exciting highlights against college defenses. And he may well figure out that he needs to change his game to survive in the pros. But I’m convinced that the lesson won’t come until after he gets trucked by a DE or LB or a headhunting safety playing big boy ball at speeds the kid can’t even imagine just yet. I want nothing to do with him as Browns starter the same way that RG3 worried me when he came into the league. Not shown in this video but also a concern was his tendency to just lob it up and hope. I get thatJosh Gordon and Jordan Cameron can make things happen, but he seemed to fall back to that approach too often for my taste, and pro secondaries won’t be nearly as accommodating.

    Bridgewater concerns me in that I think he needs to put some weight on. Carr only really seemed like a pro prospect when given all day to throw. Bortles arm just doesn’t impress me. But I’d take any of those guys over Manziel.

  • The Other Tim

    Yes, by all means let’s take the fool proof pick of an Ohio State running back.

  • OhiosVoices


  • OhiosVoices

    I agree. I’ve said the same thing, many times.

  • saggy

    this year, for me, is one where I am not really inclined to root for a certain pick for the Browns at #4. It really comes down to who is available. There are a few different scenarios which would lead me to take different players. I’m really excited about this draft…

  • left out

    taking manziel would be insanity. maybe i’m missing something but i think he will crash and burn in the NFL. with such a high pick you have to go with someone who will be the surest bet. and i think that would be watkins. if the we were to take him and put him opposite josh gordon, how do you defend that combo. we have to give hoyer another shot and that will not happen if we draft manziel since he will be the starter from day one.

  • LMK

    I live in Houston and there’s a group that is already putting up billboards around the higher to “Keep Johnny in Texas” … smh

  • Bob

    Obviously QB is a huge need. I realise that this scenario is unlikely, but what if Clowney is available at #4? 2 scenarios: suppose Minnesota trades up and Bridgewater, Manziel, and Bortles are all gone? Or what if the Rams stay put to take a lineman so that one of the three QBs and Clowney are both available at #4? DE isn’t our most pressing position of need, but you’d be getting a great talent (and possible head case).

    Do we than take a project QB such as Murray or Mettenberger with a 3rd rounder this year and grab a QB next year with the first next year? Hoyer seemed competent enough for this year to provide some excitement (although by the 2nd half of the season teams will have a good sample of game film on him which I could see making a big difference).

    To these scenarios I’d still say no…..just because Julius Peppers succeeded doesn’t mean the same scenario will play out again, but it’s interesting to consider. If the first scenario occurs, I’d right now look to trade down with a team that loves Clowney. (maybe can grab this years and next years first rounder) Early drafting a WR seems to be a volatile proposition (looking at you Crabtree) for pick #4 overall. How does Watkins compare to Calvin Johnson or AJ Green or Julio Jones when they declared for the draft?

  • JMouton

    ” I saw a guy who used his mobility only to buy time before firing
    passes. I saw a guy who excelled at getting the ball out on timing
    patterns even if they weren’t going his way and being caught along the

    You also saw a guy who, while recovering from a
    shoulder injury, also had an injured hand right after Miss. St. (smashed
    hand against his center’s helmet, characterized as fracture after
    season was over),

    and through the last 2 games (LSU/Mizzou). We later learned that the hand was
    reinjured during practice the week before LSU. It showed during that
    game, as his passing was uncharacteristically off.

    What you saw in Jan. against Duke was a healthy Manziel.

  • hart1123

    Personally, I like the idea of taking Manziel at #4, then loading him up with a backfield and big receivers. I know it’s rare to draft 3 running backs, but with today’s running back by committee approach, having Hyde, Williams, and Thomas would be pretty crazy. I didn’t address the OL, S, or OLB in the draft, but it was still fun! And I think getting Martavis Bryant at #123 would be a steal.


  • James Workman

    Nice article. Now let’s pray to god they pass on Johnny football. I’ll take Teddy Bridgewater over him every time.

  • James Workman

    Exactly what I thought when I read the line saying he’s more luck than Vick. I’ll be shocked if he approaches the success of either.

  • mgbode

    yeah, but so will the Texans.

  • James Workman

    I was speaking in a vacuum, lol. you are probably correct my friend.

  • Glennskii Meyer

    i went to a&m and i have followed manziel very very closely. i know facts about him that most of the analysts in the national press do not know. i agree with everything you said. and if the texans pass on him, and the browns take him, i will give up on the texans (as much of the city of houston will do as well), and i will become a browns fan. not only becasue of manziel being in cleveland, but also because they chose to draft him, and other reasons. i would probably do the same for whichever team drafts him, but not as much as if the Browns do it.