The Cleveland Browns have made their decision. Johnny Manziel will start the 2014 season as Johnny Backup. Despite both Manziel and veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer playing poorly in Cleveland’s second preseason game, head coach Mike Pettine deemed Hoyer’s experience and poise to be better than Manziel’s and gave him the job to start the year.
As much hype as the “competition” got, it really didn’t seem like Manziel ever stood much of a chance. His off field behavior and middle finger to the Redskins bench on Monday night surely didn’t help, but in a race that undoubtedly should be graded out as a tie, the Browns come off as a little silly to start a ho-hum career backup over a talented rookie with far and away more upside.
It’s true that Manziel didn’t blow the roof off in either preseason appearance, but he only truly looked like a rookie in his second game. He exhibited an inability to effectively and consistently read defense and showed inconsistent timing and accuracy over his first two games. He’s young and is still learning, however, so we may not be all that far off from seeing Manziel perform at a high level. In fact, if Hoyer can’t carry the Browns successfully through a tough early season schedule, we could see Manziel by week five.
Hoyer leads Cleveland into the fire against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road in week one. No one will fault him for a loss there, but the next two contests come against equally tough opponents in the Ravens and Saints. It’s unlikely Hoyer dominates, and even less likely he guides the Browns to a win in what will almost certainly be a tough 0-3 start. If that happens, the Browns will have their entire week four bye week to transition to Manziel. If that ends up happening, the rookie passer will have had three weeks of sideline action to learn the ropes and will have skated past a potentially rough start to his career. He’d also get extra time to prep for his first pro regular season game.
Even if Hoyer does well, Manziel is still regarded as the future of the Browns and will continue to be groomed for whenever he does finally hit the field during the regular season. Manziel has personally admitted he’s not completely ready to face the Steelers, as the transition from a vanilla playbook at Texas A&M has been fairly shocking.
That being said, Browns fans will have to hope Cleveland doesn’t misuse Manziel when he does finally hit the field. Manziel appeared to be at his best out of the shotgun during preseason play, but he was mostly accurate and comfortable when he was free to roll out or make decisions on the fly. Manziel did not look comfortable or decisive in the ill-fitting read-option packages deployed by offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
In the end, Manziel is going to start at some point for the Browns in 2014 and when he does he’ll be a fantasy factor. He had a strong arm and while he may be inconsistent at first, he is overall a fairly accurate passer. His rushing ability wasn’t put on full display during the preseason, as his best running comes from reacting to the defense, rather than on designed plays like the Browns have been trying to get him to do. If Cleveland let’s him play his game, he could be a legit fantasy contributor. For now, he’s merely a stash option for a deep bench.