is still in the NFL’s concussion protocol and is in doubt to suit up to take has been ruled out for Cleveland’s matchup with the Tennessee Titans in week two. Naturally, the Cleveland Browns will turn to second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel when the Browns host the Titans this weekend.
Mapping out a success story for Cleveland in the real world is tough. The Titans looked pretty good in a 42-14 romp last week and the Browns have little offensive talent to get excited about.
Still, one can’t help but wonder if Johnny Manziel is worth the risk in fantasy football leagues. The answer? Maybe. Only maybe.
What We Know
Truth be told, Manziel wasn’t half bad in three quarters against a good Jets defense last week. Consider everything: Manziel had very little practice or preparation with the first team offense going into the game. He’s a backup, after all. Cleveland also couldn’t run the ball to save their life. Manziel and Josh McCown were the top two rushers for the Browns. The Browns’ passing weapons don’t invoke much confidence, either.
Even with all that working against him, Manziel fired a touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin right away and ended the first half down just 14-10.
Of course, from there Manziel got harassed relentlessly by blitzes, while Cleveland struggled to do anything supportive around him. The worst part may have been when two penalties called back a beautiful (and big) run by Manziel, as well as a nice throw. Take those two plays off the stat sheet, and Manziel still wasn’t the worst fantasy source with 182 passing yards, 35 rushing yards and one passing touchdown. He also had three ugly turnovers.
But that was all in three quarters. With an extra quarter, we can mildly increase his totals to 200+ passing yards, 45 rushing yards and a score. He could have turned the ball over three more times at that rate, but you get the idea. His turnovers produced -6 points, but take those away and with his end stat line you have a respectable 17.8 fantasy points on daily fantasy football sites like DraftKings.
For Comparison’s Sake
But the turnovers did happen. I get it. Hey, Jameis Winston looked horrendous last week and got trounced by these very Titans, yet his production for the week, including his turnovers, was 16.2 points.
That’s not half bad for a guy that looked atrocious. He was $6k at DraftKings last week and at least arguably lived up to his value. The 4th place team in last week’s $2 million winner? They had Matt Ryan (18 fantasy points) as their starting quarterback.
Manziel can get that, if not much more. Cleveland doesn’t need to score 30 points or even win for Manziel to pay off in fantasy football. Manziel just needs to play his game, run a bit and not turn the ball over three times. Matt Ryan threw two interceptions and got 18 fantasy points.
Okay, so the logic of “how many points do I need” for Manziel to be worth it has set in. Now for the actual argument:
Why Manziel is Worth Using
I’m not yet sold that the Tennessee Titans are some beastly defense. Jameis Winston looked hopeless in his pro debut and he was playing from behind in a horrifying 21-0 hole right away in the first quarter. Tampa Bay should have kept running the ball with Doug Martin or made life easier on Winston, but instead they threw him into the fire more and more and it went, oh, so horribly.
That’s not to say the same thing can’t happen to Manziel. But believe it or not, Manziel has looked more composed and comfortable than Winston all summer. Manziel knew what he was doing last week, the pressure was just too much and Cleveland had no running game to throw off New York’s scent. It made it too easy.
The idea here is that Manziel is better than the overall sum we got last week and that the Titans are worse than what we saw them do to the Bucs. There is another side of the story, too, and it’s two-fold.
- Tennessee’s run defense still isn’t very good. Before Winston caved in a sea of turnovers and ineptitude, Doug Martin was finding solid success on the ground. If the Browns can get Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson and even Johnny going on the ground, it could really open up the offense.
- The Titans had a dream game last week. Marcus Mariota was sensational and even Bishop freaking Sankey did well. That could be a fluke of sorts. Joe Haden and Cleveland’s pass defense can be tough, while their pass rush can also be strong. If they both show up, Sankey will be exposed and Mariota could feel the heat. Cleveland’s run defense still isn’t great, but stopping Sankey is not the tallest order in the world.
One other thing is the hope that the Browns realize what talent they do have at wide receiver and start to use it more. Brian Hartline is OK but he and Dwayne Bowe are largely spare. Travis Benjamin showed his speed on last week’s only Browns touchdown and he, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel all need to be worked into the offense more. A currently pedestrian offense could show a nice turn around if those guys, Manziel and Duke Johnson start having the ability to showcase their speed and athleticism.
Inside the Numbers
A year ago Manziel’s only full start revealed two things: he was ill prepared and he was sloppy. His footwork, decision-making and knowledge of the playbook were all simply atrocious. All have improved this year, and we saw sprinkles of it in camp and preseason play. We really saw it last week, as Manziel has a solid 7.6 yards per attempt rate and had over 180 yards on just 13 completions. Compare that to guys like Drew Brees (7.4) and Tony Romo (7.9) and Manziel is in pretty good company. It’s a small sample size, but so was what we saw out of Johnny last year, but his YPA in 2014 was stuck at an ugly 5.0. He’s improved and that only should mean better numbers across the board if he has a full game in front of him.
That’s just the passing, though. Look at his ability as a runner, where from what we’ve seen you’re probably conservatively looking at 35-40 rushing yards with a chance at a score. Manziel still does have a propensity to bolt from the pocket or at least leak out of it, but in week one we actually saw him do a great job extending some plays and then he had a great run where he weaved through traffic. That was called back due to a penalty, though. Had that stood, Manziel would have looked a lot better on the ground, while that play was an example of his upside and ability as a rusher.
I’m not quite there yet in terms of vouching for Johnny Football in season long fantasy leagues. There are good options and you didn’t draft Manziel to be your QB1, so you shouldn’t bite on Manziel just yet.
DFS folk, however, need to not fade Manziel entirely. He is dirt cheap and as the starter could return serious value. If you’re not a believer in Manziel, fine I get it. But you don’t really have to be. He’s a guy who likes to run and will take chances down the field. Those things can end badly, but they can also end beautifully.
In the end, Manziel is the classic high risk vs. high reward play. He’s at home, will have a full week of work with the first team offense and just got done shaking some rust off against a pretty stout defense on the road. I love his price and I like his chances to approach 20 fantasy points this week. I’m using him on a few teams in daily fantasy football leagues this week and I dare you to, as well.