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.
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)
- I will presumably have a segment on ESPN with Jon Gruden to watch, but that’s just not the same thing. [↩]
- 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… [↩]