After all the preseason hype, Mike Pettine and the Browns finally did the logical thing and named vanilla veteran Brian Hoyer as their starting quarterback, relegating Johnny Manziel to the role of understudy. The decision just made too much sense – the rookie showed flashes of his dynamic upside during the preseason but didn’t dominate, and Johnny Football couldn’t provide many compelling reasons why he should be thrown into the fire for Week 1.
That’s why it now makes sense to draft Manziel.
The Bubble Has Burst
Thanks to Pettine’s announcement, Manziel’s ADP has been dropping like a rock. On ESPN, he’s gone from being drafted in the same range as Jay Cutler and Andy Dalton to barely being drafted at all. In the NFFC, he went from an ADP of 169.6 pre-decision to 195.4 afterwards. (h/t to Brian Peacock for those numbers).
There’s little question than Manziel was over-valued before, based on the belief that he might win the starting job. Young, mobile QBs will always be the new hotness at the draft table, but if you find yourself passing on a guy like Dalton to grab a guy who doesn’t even have a secure job, you are taking a massive risk.
Now that the bottom has fallen out of the Manziel market though, that risk factor is no longer present. You can grab him as a true late-round dart.
The Browns’ Manziel-Friendly Schedule
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But why should you use a late-round dart on Manziel, rather than, say, an upside running back? Well, take a gander at Cleveland’s schedule to start the season:
Week 1: @ PIT
Week 2: vs NO
Week 3: vs BAL
Week 4: BYE
Sure, they have two home games and two divisional games, but that is three nasty opponents. The Browns haven’t beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh in over a decade. The chances that a Hoyer-led offense will be able to keep up with the Saints seems just about nil. And the blood feud against the Ravens hasn’t been going Cleveland’s way recently. In fact, last year’s home win against Baltimore was the first time they’d downed the hated purple birds in any stadium since 2007.
What do you think the odds are Hoyer leads the Browns to an 0-3 start?
How loud do you think the ‘Free Johnny’ cries will be from the fans and the media if that’s the case?
The Josh Gordon Factor
We could finally have an answer on this one by the time you read this, but there is still a chance Gordon’s suspension will be reduced, and he’ll get to suit up at some point this season. His presence would be a huge boost for an offense that, as currently constructed, lacks anything like a dangerous playmaker. Jordan Cameron is a solid new breed tight end who’ll create some mismatches, but he’s not likely to rip off many 40 yard gains. Ben Tate may have had his moments in Houston (when he was healthy), but he’s looked alarmingly Trent Richardson-like in the preseason.
If Gordon’s suspension does get knocked down, he still won’t be in uniform until the latter part of the season. And unless Hoyer has a miraculous start, the chances are pretty good that by the time Gordon gets on the field, Hoyer will be on the bench.
One of the main things that makes Hoyer undraftable in most leagues is his lack of weapons. Once Manziel gets his feet wet and takes the reins, that may not be an issue for him. Matthew Stafford has made a pretty good living heaving the ball downfield for Megatron on a regular basis. There’s no reason Manziel couldn’t do the same thing with his own elite wide receiver. “Go get it, Josh!” could end up being the favorite play call for a young quarterback whose game has an awful lot of schoolyard in it.
Of course, none of this is to say that Manziel is a lock to have a big fantasy season. He may not take over the job until late in the season, or at all. And statistically speaking, as a rookie he may end up looking more like Terrelle Pryor than Cam Newton or Michael Vick. But now that the buy-in cost is reasonable, the risk/reward analysis for stashing him on your bench until at least Week 5 looks a lot more palatable. If the Browns come out of their bye with a winning record and Hoyer playing well, cut Manziel loose and pick up someone more immediately useful. If, on the other hand, Manziel’s debut looks like it could happen at any moment, you may have picked up a very valuable fantasy asset for a song. And those are the picks that win you titles.