Johnny Manziel, The Cleveland Browns, And A High Fantasy Football Floor

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Johnny Manziel

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Johnny Manziel, who joined the Cleveland Browns in the waning picks of the NFL Draft’s first round, could have an exceedingly high fantasy football floor in 2014. For a late-round fantasy draft pick, we couldn’t ask for much more.

We’ll get into Manziel’s potential impact on Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron in a subsequent article, but in the meantime, you’d do well to check out Rich Hribar’s thorough breakdown of what might be in store for Gordon and Cameron in Kyle Shanahan’s offense with Johnny Football at the helm.

It ain’t great.

How can we get a feel for Johnny Football’s rookie year prospects? It’s never easy with rookies, of course, but I thought a look at fantasy efficiency among quarterbacks who have run most in recent seasons was a good place to start.

Why? If Manziel is a Week 1 starter – or even if he plays 12 or 13 games in 2014 – there’s (almost) no way he’s not among the signal callers with the most rushing attempts at season’s end. He’ll have to fend off Brian Hoyer, of course, who looked better than OK in his two and a half games as the Browns’ signal caller in 2013.

Forget Manziel’s explosive athleticism for a moment and consider that fleet-footed rookie quarterbacks have used their scrambling ability to counter the inevitable struggles with reading NFL defenses and making snap decisions in the lighting fast pro game.

Manziel will run, and run a lot.

 

Year Average points per drop back among top-5 rushing QBs High fantasy points per drop back
2010 .56 .69
2011 .56 .69
2012 .55 .70
2013 .53 .58
AVERAGE .54 .66

 

Look at that. Forget the ridiculous .66 average – a conglomeration of otherworldly fantasy numbers posted by Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and company – and focus on the overall average of .54 fantasy points per drop back. It’s worth noting that that number was dragged down by Colt McCoy’s hideous .33 average in 2011 and RGIII’s odious .43 per-drop back numbers in 2013.

I’m not charging that Manziel will surely score .54 fantasy points every time he drops back to pass. I am saying that the recent history of the run-happiest quarterbacks shows, at the very least, a high fantasy floor.

I pieced together a chart (below) that shows a rough range of outcomes for the new Browns’ quarterback, with the worst outcome putting Johnny Football at the bottom end of the QB1 spectrum. I don’t think any of these scenarios are unrealistic, unless Shanahan and company use their new franchise quarterback as a hand-off machine in an archconservative offensive scheme.

 

Fantasy points per drop back Total drop backs Fantasy points QB rank (2013)
.60 600 360 QB3
.60 550 330 QB4
.55 600 330 QB4
.55 550 302.5 QB6
.50 600 300 QB7
.50 550 275 QB11

 

If Manziel cracked the 650-drop back barrier – a feat accomplished by seven quarterbacks in 2013 and six in 2012 – and posted a half point on every drop back, he’d finish as a top-3 fantasy quarterback. Even if you drop that number to .45 – horrible for a running passer – you’d get a top-8 signal caller.

This is hardly the end-all-be-all of Manziel fantasy outcomes.

He could fall below the .50 mark, which would be somewhat disastrous for a scrambling quarterback. Colin Kaepernick averaged .56 fantasy points per drop back in 2013, finishing the season as fantasy’s 10th highest scoring signal caller. Kaepernick, like Wilson, lacked the necessary volume of opportunity, as he totaled a meager 504 drop backs.

Cam Newton notched a .56 per-drop back average last year, while Robert Griffin III managed to score an ugly .43 points per drop back despite recording 86 rushes and dropping back 530 times in 13 games (RGIII was on pace for 652 drop backs).

Quarterbacks who make their fantasy living on the ground and through the air aren’t immune from inefficient per-drop back numbers, but statistical history shows that those duel threat signal callers are usually elite on a per-drop back basis.

Johnny Football is Russell Wilson? Well…

I’m not saying Manziel and Wilson are the same player; their measurables do the talking there.

Wilson and the newly drafted rookie are two of just six quarterbacks who have measured at less than six feet tall at the NFL combine since 2006. One hundred and eight quarterbacks since 2008 have completed the 20-yard shuttle at the combine, with Wilson and Manziel finishing among the top-5 out of that group.

Both guys, according to their shuttle results, were quicker than the average receiver or running back over the past six NFL combines.

Both signal callers have hand size that ranks in the top 70 percent among quarterbacks. In fact, only 35 players since 2008 have had larger hands than Johnny Football, whose mitts come in at 9.88 inches.

Wilson’s paws, for the record, are a ridiculous 10.24 inches. These large hands on quarterbacks large and small are known as “all weather hands,” meaning a passer’s overgrown mitts can help him drive the football in all variety of weather conditions.

Hand size has proven to be much more predictive of success in the NFL than the height of a player, and Manziel’s hand size is widely considered the primary reason he only fumbled the pigskin just twice even while racking up yards on the ground. Michael Vick, another decent Manziel (size) comp, has 8.5-inch hands and has been a regular fumble machine during his pro career.

George Whitfield Jr., an expert quarterback trainer who has worked extensively with Manziel, said a passer’s hand size is as important as height during the evaluation process. For one, Whitfield pointed out in an interview with Cleveland.com, guys with the biggest hands can sell a pump fake much more easily than quarterbacks with smaller-than-average hands.

“You just have so much more control,” Whitfield said. “If you can get the ball to do what you want it to do on a calm day or windy day you have a distinct advantage.”

Manziel also shares more than a couple statistical similarities with Wilson.

  • Manziel completed 73.5 percent of his passes from inside the pocket during his final college season. Wilson’s final-season completion rate was 76.3 percent.
  • Both guys were dominant on third down, thanks in large part to their penchant for improvisation. Manziel finished his college career with a 97 Total QBR on third down, while Wilson posted a 95.5 QBR on third downs at Wisconsin.
  • On third and long (more than seven yards), Manziel and Wilson ranked first and second in most rushing first downs since 2005.

I’ve said that Wilson would be a perennial top-3 fantasy quarterback in a slightly less conservative offense with a not-so-dominant defense there to suppress his statistical output. I stand by that, and I think Manziel might be an excellent test of that theory this season in Cleveland.

C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.
3 comments
JDBeckler
JDBeckler

@CDCarter13 Does the range include “snapped twig” because, well, he’s a Brown now……