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Johnny Manziel: Screaming Bargain
image via wikimedia commons
image via wikimedia commons

I’m not sure anyone who reads this article is going to be swayed in either direction, but I still feel that it needs to be written because the existence of Johnny Manziel’s 13th round ADP makes fantasy football fun for me in 2014. A month and a half ago, I read Shawn Siegele’s Manziel piece and completely agreed with his conclusion: Johnathan Paul Money Manziel is one of the best quarterback prospects of this decade and an instant QB1. There is certainly a wide range of outcomes for JFF in 2014, given the putridity of his offensive weapons outside of Jordan Cameron and questions about his height (which does matter for QB’s, but doesn’t matter for Manziel because he’s so good).

Outside of Shawn’s excellent piece, I do have some analysis to justify why I think a QB1 season is firmly in a reasonable range of outcomes for Manziel. Primarily, I think he fits in an elite set of comps who had tremendous success their first season in the NFL. Heisman-winning QB’s who were drafted in the first round, had elite rushing numbers in college as well as elevated adjusted yards per attempt.

Player Year Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
Cam Newton 2010 185 280 66.1 2854 10.2 11.2 30 7 182
Robert Griffin III 2011 291 402 72.4 4293 10.7 11.8 37 6 189.5
Johnny Manziel 2013 300 429 69.9 4114 9.6 10 37 13 172.9

I’m cheating here a little because I used the Heisman season for Cam and RG3, but used Manziel’s second season. I didn’t do that to make him look better, but to put them at a more comparable age. Manziel won the Heisman when he was 19 years old. Cam was 21 when he won his, as was RG3. That’s Manziel’s age right now. Work done by Fantasy Douche and Jon Moore has shown that the better the player is at a younger age, or specifically, the age that they have their breakout season, is a solid predictor of NFL success. RG3 was the best passer in this subset, Cam was efficient on a per attempt basis, and Johnny compiled the best totals across the board. None of these players primarily generate fantasy value from passing however, and that isn’t why I think JFF will be a QB1.

Player Year Att Yds Avg TD
Cam Newton 2010 264 1473 5.6 20
Robert Griffin III 2008 173 843 4.9 13
Johnny Manziel 2012 201 1410 7 21

*NCAA rushing stats also include sacks

I just used every prospect’s best rushing season in this graph, which means RG3’s freshmen season and Manziel’s freshmen Heisman season. I was sort of surprised that Manziel’s best rushing season was as good as Newton’s, given that we collectively think of Newton as some sort of indestructible rushing force, throwing off defensive linemen like the small child from the Play60 commercials, and hurdling haters like an Olympian. There’s no doubt that Newton and Manziel accomplished their rushing yards in a different fashion, but both of them ran 40s in the 4.6 range, albeit Cam’s at a much greater weight.

What does this mean for Manziel? From a production standpoint, he was similarly successful as the last two running QBs to win Heismans and then post a QB1 rookie season. I think that’s an elite comp group. Manziel isn’t going to an elite offensive situation, but neither was Newton. His best receiving option was a past his prime 5’9″ possession receiver, with some overdue Jeremy Shockey thrown in the mix. RG3 had the creative Mike Shanahan who used his zone blocking scheme to unleash Griffin’s rushing ability; but with Pierre Garcon missing a ton of games, the team’s leading pass catcher was Josh Morgan with 48 catches. Morgan was unceremoniously dumped the season prior by the 49ers and has 11 career TD receptions. Not optimal.

These dudes did not have elite options in the receiving game. When it’s raised as a criticism for Manziel’s QB1 prospects that his receivers suck (which they do), I’m not sure that buries his chances. Most RV readers are familiar with the concept of the Konami Code , and it certainly applies here. Guys like Terrelle Pryor and Tim Tebow weren’t good passers, but posted QB1 numbers week after week. Fantasy Douche made that argument better than I can in this piece and it’s notable in relation to Manziel. Even if he doesn’t perform as well as a passer as he did in college, he still has preternatural rushing ability which is weighted far greater in fantasy than passing performance.

I think the reluctance of the general fantasy football to accept Manziel’s potential brilliance is a huge advantage for the less risk averse RotoViz subscriber. Your choices after Tony Romo leaves the board are the Andy Dalton, Ben Rothlisberger, and Jay Cutlers of the world. Those are all fine fantasy options, but none of them (save Cutler) offer top-five potential. Part of the reason we do late round QB is the hope of finding the Matt Stafford 2011, the Cam Newton 2011, the RG3 2012. We’re trying to find a QB that ends up being so good, we don’t have to worry about streaming anymore. That’s not happening if you select a safe floor player like Alex Smith. Those guys are never going to be good enough to be week in, week out starters. Manziel on the other hand, does offer elite upside.

Most of his rushing in college didn’t come off designed runs, but mostly scramble plays. The Browns actually hired Kyle Shanahan, who was the offensive coordinator in Washington when RG3 had his magical season. Did Kyle have a huge role in creating the offense that made RG3 so great in 2012? Maybe. So not only does the upside of his scrambling ability exist, but if Lil’ Shanahan implements similar elements from the 2012 Washington offense to the 2014 Browns offense, then the sky is, realistically, the limit for Manziel’s fantasy value.

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