How Should Johnny Manziel Be Valued On Draft Day?

by Ray Lin

While the position battle between Michael Vick and Geno Smith has been mildly interesting, there’s no doubt that the most closely monitored QB situation in fantasy has been the one in Cleveland.  Despite being the incumbent starter as the veteran with a respectable 82.6 QB rating in three starts last year, Brian Hoyer has fairly limited fantasy appeal. On the other side, we can’t seem to go a day without hearing about 22nd overall pick Johnny “Football” Manziel.

In two years at Texas A&M, Manziel averaged an impressive weekly line of 300 yards passing, 2.4 passing TDs, 83.8 yards rushing and 1.2 rushing TDs. The dual threat potential in dynasty and keeper leagues is obviously massive, but how should redraft leaguers in single QB leagues treat Manziel?

My personal philosophy in the early rounds is to weigh opportunity over raw talent, but it’s wiser to do the opposite in the later rounds. In other words, instead of rostering fringe backup fantasy QB options like Carson Palmer, Alex Smith and Eli Manning, I would probably grab the potential upside of Manziel in hopes that, at the very least, he’ll have solid value right around the time bye weeks kick in.

Monday night’s preseason game between Cleveland and Washington wasn’t pretty by any means under center. Hoyer started the game and looked shaky throughout. He was marred by false starts and inaccurate passes, finishing with just two completions for 16 yards. Manziel took over and despite three sacks and many passes that were behind Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, was 7-for-16 (43.8%) for 65 yards and threw a short scoring pass to Dion Lewis for Cleveland’s lone offensive TD.

Among the most interesting parts of Manziel’s usage was the handful of zone read plays out of the pistol (compared to none for Hoyer) called by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. There’s no doubt that the Browns offense looked more dynamic, albeit still sloppy, with Manziel in. One play that stood out in particular was a sharp zone-stretch bootleg play that showed off Manziel’s legs and finished with a sharp throw to Andrew Hawkins for the first down. Even then, he ended up without any positive rushing stats.

The conservative assumption is that Hoyer will start the season, but I would not be surprised to see new Browns head coach Mike Pettine go to his talented rookie by Week 3 or 4. For comparison’s sake, I think Manziel’s fantasy floor in his rookie season will be comparable to what Terrelle Pryor did in only 11 games last year on the ground — 52.4 rushing yards per game at a stellar 6.9 YPC clip. If he were to somehow claim the starting job from Hoyer for the majority of the year, his fantasy upside should range anywhere from Russell Wilson to the most elite of the dual-threat comparables, Cam Newton.

Manziel presents the best of both worlds at the end of fantasy drafts — both upside and floor. His Newtonian upside is huge, but his high floor as a rusher makes him relatively safe as a QB2 pick considering the pedestrian list of options at that point in any redraft league.

Going into the dress rehearsal before the season, I think we are still looking at a 50/50 decision on Hoyer or Manziel to start against the Steelers in the season opener. Those who are drafting before Pettine names a starter should treat Manziel as a mid-range QB2 with high upside for the middle of the season.

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Make sure to check out all of our 2014 rankings:

Two Running Backs Most Likely To Emerge As Top 10 Option By Year's End
Draft Day Decision: Victor Cruz vs. Vincent Jackson (Includes 2014 Projections)

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