It’s finally happening. We could talk all day about whether or not the Cleveland Browns should have benched Brian Hoyer last week or even several weeks ago, but they finally have and now Johnny Manziel finally gets to show if he’s got the goods. I think he does, but even if he doesn’t, he still has a great shot at producing for your fantasy football team in week 15. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, either, as you’ve been skating by with spares at the position or can’t take another week of Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick faces the Seahawks this week, too. Again, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.
So, do you start Johnny Manziel this week? I’d answer a flat “you damn right”, but that’s a tad lazy. Let’s break it down a little more and see whether or not you should in fact use Johnny Football with your season on the line:
What We Know
I think that 10-yard touchdown scamper against the Bills two weeks ago told us a couple of things. First, Manziel isn’t afraid, and he plans on having a lot of fun. Secondly, he’s plenty athletic. He’s plenty quick. And he’s plenty fast. In addition, I think he has a better understanding of concepts, what the defense is going to throw at him and how things break down. Yes, all on one play, right? But it’s not just the run or what the run showed us. It’s largely the potential that oozes from it. It also symbolizes the pure upside of Manziel.
The biggest issues with Manziel have been his size, his off field character, maturity, grasp of the offense, ability to read defenses and durability. I don’t think size is at all an issue. Russell Wilson and Drew Brees have proven over time size doesn’t have to be an issue, so I think the only way it factors in for Manziel is with durability. Could long-term durability be an issue? Absolutely. But it’s also possible this is just the NFL, and worrying about Manziel staying healthy over another player is kind of silly. Even the biggest, toughest guys can go down in a second, while some of the smallest guys can stay healthy for insanely long spans. It’s a luck-based notion, more than anything. It probably doesn’t factor much into his week 15 fantasy value, either.
I think it’s pretty clear Manziel is still immature, but I’m not sure that matters here, either.With Kyle Shanahan’s experience with Robert Griffin III, I think Manziel’s lingering issues with the playbook and reading defenses can also be masked. Those are undoubtedly his chief concerns when it comes to long-term fantasy and real life potential. But for this week and probably the final three games, I doubt it factors in too much.
Once you get past those core issues, you happen upon a pure gamer. Manziel carries magic in his right arm, and while some label him as a pure running quarterback, he’s actually much better with his arm. He has a strong arm, puts plenty of zip on his passes, has displayed better than advertised accuracy and can fit the ball into tight windows. We’ll surely see some bad plays and probably some turnovers out of him over the final three weeks, but we’ll see some big plays, as well.
There are things to inspect and be concerned about, but there is a ton to be excited about. I think because he’s a hated player, people tend to dismiss his special talent. No, he’s not a true burner like RG3 was or how Colin Kaepernick is, but he’s very fast for a quarterback and he has elite agility and elusiveness for the position. That’s not normally a big deal when an all out blitz is all over him, but on a regular basis, it’s going to help extend plays and keep the door open for him to kill the defense.
Ultimately, we only know so much. Everyone guessing whether or not Manziel’s game will translate or not (myself included) is to this point just guessing. My main argument is that there is enough talent (and supporting talent) here for Manziel to be a success.
The Cincinnati Bengals can be tough. They can also be terrible. On the year, they’ve been fairly stingy against fantasy quarterbacks, allowing just the 6th most (just over 14 per game). That obviously doesn’t bode well for Johnny Football, but the fact that Ben Roethlisberger absolutely destroyed them last week has to. Manziel also has Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron at his disposal. Gordon ripped the Bengals for 14 receptions, 196 receiving yards and a touchdown last year (hasn’t faced them in ’14 due to suspension), while Cameron dropped 16 catches for 140 yards and a score on the Bengals, as well. Point being, Manziel has two very talented weapons that have had very nice success against Cincy’s defense.
Two other key things worth noting: Cincinnati is not quite as elite as a whole away from home. They typically win (4-2 on the road), but they got absolutely destroyed by the Patriots and Colts in their two road losses. Their other road games came against bad teams or teams that have more conservative offenses. It’s also definitely worth noting that they struggled mightily against Cam Newton in a game that resulted in a tie.
Cincinnati has arguably benefited from a fairly easy schedule, too. They have eight wins, but just three of their wins have come against teams with a winning record. Two came against the Ravens and the third came against a Texans team is barely above .500.
In the beginning of the year Cincy seemed to be a dangerous, balanced team. Since then we’ve discovered they’re at best inconsistent and they’ve taken advantage of a pretty weak schedule. That’s naturally played into their fantasy output, as they’ve dominated the likes of Jake Locker, Blake Bortles, Josh McCown and Ryan Mallett outside of the division. They also manhandled Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, but I’m not sure we can be all that impressed with those two shutdown performances given just how bad Atlanta and New Orleans have been this year.
Lastly, Cleveland won in Cincinnati the last time these two teams faced. They know how to win this matchup if they play within themselves, and this time they’re at home. With a less than impressive schedule and skewed stats supporting their inconsistent defense, as well as a lack of success against athletic quarterbacs (Newton and Andrew Luck), I’m not nearly as afraid of this matchup as I think some people will be.
Johnny Manziel is going to use his legs. Not only will the matchup suggest it, but a brand new Browns offense will beg for it, as letting Manziel run around like a chicken with it’s head cut off actually opens the door to massive plays. In the end, he’ll run a good amount and he’ll probably account for 40-50 yards on the ground alone. He has a solid chance at getting a rushing score, too. If he can even get 200 passing yards and add one passing score with a hopeful score on the ground, he could be in for a somewhat conservative 22 fantasy points. That’s conservative in my own opinion and using standard scoring as a backdrop. I think the upside is obviously much more, especially when you factor in that he’s at home, has Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron healthy and has a beatable matchup on paper.
The Bengals are a pretty good team and there’s always the chance they blitz Manziel all day and this turns out to be a mess. But on top of everything else, I think Manziel is going to come in with a massive chip on his shoulder. Everyone is doubting him, he’s been waiting to play for forever and Marvin Lewis just called him a midget. I have a strange feeling that Manziel goes nuts and when it’s all said and done, Manziel will cap a crazy game by saying, “Not bad for a midget, huh?”.
Whether or not all of this leads to the Browns winning, we shouldn’t care less. It should lead to a nice fantasy day for Manziel, however.