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Why You Should Bet Big on Johnny Manziel in Dynasty

Our expert thinks you shouldn't be afraid to bet big on Johnny Football.
Our expert thinks you shouldn't be afraid to bet big on Johnny Football.

While the debate is still raging between wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, I believe even in single-QB leagues Johnny Manziel should be the prized possession of this draft class for dynasty football.

Rushing quarterbacks have taken the NFL and fantasy football leagues by storm as of late, and Manziel has all the trappings of a player who will be the next man to put himself on the map. Situation, history, and unique talents seemed to have all come together for a perfect storm Dynasty star in the making.

What exactly is it that makes Johnny Manziel so attractive this upcoming season? Well, you can start with the well-accepted-but-little-discussed fact that rushing quarterbacks are down-right broken in fantasy football leagues.

Quarterback rushing stats are broken in fantasy

Excluding things like the Wildcat and punts, quarterbacks touch the ball one way or another on every offensive play. The nature of that arrangement means quarterbacks inevitably will accumulate higher raw numbers than any other position and therefore it makes perfect sense to scale back their production in fantasy scoring.

In your typical fantasy football league, it takes 25 passing yards to tally 1 fantasy point and a passing touchdown is worth 4 points. Through their primary means of scoring, all other positions score 1 point every 10 yards and 6 points for a touchdown. If it wasn’t for this separation in the rules, you would have had Peyton Manning scoring 848.6 fantasy points last year instead of 410 points which was already the highest of any player.

There is a loophole in this situation though, allowing quarterbacks to receive “full value” for their production as long as they are running the ball instead of passing. You can argue all day long about whether this is an acceptable part of the game, but the fact is it gives mobile quarterbacks a huge advantage in fantasy football leagues.

Of the top 13 quarterbacks in total fantasy points for 2013, 5 of them exceeded 350 rushing yards and 3 of them went for more than 500. Had he not been benched, Robert Griffin III would have likely been added to both figures. Neither Cam Newton or Andrew Luck hit the 4,000 yard or 25 passing touchdown marks, yet both of them finished in the top 4. Neither one of them would have been in the top 9 if you convert all their rushing stats into passing stats. Yes, the exact same production scored in different ways has that much of an effect.

Even players that are frankly not very good can become fantasy studs at QB if they run the ball enough. In 9 starts for the Raiders an overmatched Terrelle Pryor averaged nearly 16 fantasy points a game, including 4 games of between 18 and 20 points. In Tim Tebow’s infamous 2011 season he started 11 times and averaged just over 16 points a game, breaking the 20-point barrier 3 times. The guy had a game where he completed two passes and still scored 17.1 points, plus a game where came in off the bench and scored 17 points with 4 completions. Perhaps the worst passer I’ve ever seen in the NFL was a strong fantasy start weekly because of the way rushing is scored.

I think Manziel has skills to become a pretty decent passer at the NFL level, but even if I’m wrong, he can be a worthwhile fantasy asset with his legs alone.

Here are the best collegiate rushing seasons by some well-known mobile quarterbacks, including Manziel:

Johnny Manziel (2012): 201 carries for 1,410 yards (7.0 YPC) and 21 touchdowns
Robert Griffin III (2011): 179 carries for 699 yards (3.9 YPC) and 10 touchdowns
Cam Newton (2010): 264 carries for 1,473 yards (5.6 YPC) and 20 touchdowns
Colin Kaepernick (2010): 173 carries for 1,206 yards (7.0 YPC) and 20 touchdowns
Russell Wilson (2010): 143 carries for 435 yards (3.0 YPC) and 9 touchdowns
Terrelle Pryor (2009): 162 carries for 779 yards (4.8 YPC) and 7 touchdowns
Tim Tebow (2007): 210 carries for 895 yards (4.3 YPC) and 23 touchdowns

Manziel arguably had the best rushing season of any of their college careers. He was a narrow second in yards and touchdowns and tied for first in yards per carry. His 2013 season was a step back from those numbers, but still strong and shows that Manziel is one of the best dual-threats to come into the league in recent memory. Manziel isn’t physically built like some of those players and has a totally unique running style, but that shouldn’t be an issue. We’ll come back to that later.

Browns potentially have elite weapons

Potentially being the key word. In Josh Gordon, the Browns have a wide receiver who missed the first 2 games of 2013 to suspension and still led the NFL in receiving yards at age 22. That was with a bunch of quarterbacks the average NFL fan couldn’t name and minimal college experience. In other words, you could argue he’s the NFL’s most talented receiver outside of Calvin Johnson. The problem is Gordon is slated to miss the entire 2014 season with another suspension due to repeated marijuana usage and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether he gets his act together.

After Gordon, the Browns have one of the brightest young tight ends in Jordan Cameron. A 6’5″ former basketball player and multiple-year sleeper, Cameron finally woke up and broke out for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns in 15 games last year. At times he looked like he could be dominant in the red zone. Cameron could be one of the best tight ends in the game for the next 5-10 years if he continues his progress and re-signs with the team.

Andrew Hawkins is an extremely quick slot receiver that was under-utilized previously in Cincinnati. Hawkins caught 51 balls for the Bengals in 2012 and made several highlight contributions that left many intrigued. Hawkins missed most of 2013 with an ankle injury and never found a prominent role on the team when he returned. Not unlike the Patriots with Wes Welker years ago, the Browns saw something in an undersized division rival receiver, only instead of trading for him Hawkins was signed as a restricted free agent.

The one hole in the Browns’ receiving corps is who will line up outside opposite Gordon when he returns. The team signed Miles Austin, but there’s no guarantee his now-notorious hamstrings will let him play more than a handful of games. The Cleveland Browns could have taken Sammy Watkins in the draft which would have solidified that spot and provided Gordon insurance, but the team opted to go defense instead. Even with the #2 receiver a mystery for the moment, Cleveland has some fantastic young weapons for Manziel to grow with. The hope just has to be Gordon staying away from green leaves.

Size won’t matter

One of the knocks on Johnny Manziel as a prospect is his relatively short stature for an NFL quarterback. At 5’11.75″ he falls below the “ideal” 6’2″ minimum. You know who else does? Drew Brees, who is about exactly Manziel’s height and will end up enshrined in Canton. Russell Wilson, a full inch shorter than Manziel, is coming off of back-to-back top 9 fantasy seasons and a Super Bowl win to start his career. If Manziel is a bust, it’s not going to be because of his height.

Something Manziel also has in common with Brees and Wilson is freakishly large hands. Lately there have been more studies done on quarterbacks and some have found that hand size may have more correlation to success than height. Brees and Wilson both have 10.25″ hands and Manziel is just behind them at 9.875″. Manziel’s hands were larger than any other QB that attended this year’s Combine, including 6’5″ Blake Bortles. Johnny should have no problem ripping the ball in the cold AFC North battles with those mitts.

Will Manziel’s size impede his rushing ability or get him hurt? Again, the quick and easy comparison is Wilson. Manziel is slightly taller than Wilson and 4 pounds heavier. In his two years as a pro, Wilson has run for 1,028 yards and 5 touchdowns. He hasn’t missed a game to injury. The two are very different as runners and Manziel will end up taking more hits as he tries to create plays, but a similar body type has held up well for Wilson. Manziel isn’t out there trying to plow through linebackers like Tebow or plunge over a wall of linemen like Newton, and that’s to his benefit.

Manziel doesn’t have to look like Wilson on the field or ever win as many games, but the way he can contribute to box scores for fantasy as a runner should be close and should even favor Manziel. With superior passing game talent around him and potentially more passing attempts in the future, Manziel could be Wilson 2.0 in fantasy. How high would people rank Wilson if the Seahawks traded for Josh Gordon tomorrow and the coaches committed to let him pass more? I’d reckon pretty high. That’s more or less what I envision for Manziel in the years to come.

Off the field not a concern

I don’t particularly follow college football, at least until the NFL draft draws near, so I don’t know exactly where all this Johnny Football fascination came from. People follow this guy’s every move like he’s the Kim Kardashian of the NFL. If he goes anywhere or hangs out with anyone it blows up all over social media. It’s gotten to the point where headlines routinely question his dedication to football because there happens to be no cameras around when he’s studying the playbook.

When Manziel goes to Vegas for a weekend on his free time it’s because he’s an unprofessional punk that doesn’t care about football. When Tom Brady goes off to a beach with his family or goes and has a good time at the Kentucky Derby, no one bats an eye. No player spends every waking minute of his life working on football. Unless Manziel’s coaches come out and explicitly say they’re not satisfied with his work habits, I’m going to keep giving him the benefit of the doubt. Nothing I’ve seen him doing post-draft is illegal or threatening of his football career in any way. If you want to pick on a guy for being an idiot off the field, it’s his teammate wearing #12.

One caveat…

While I’m high on Johnny Manziel long-term, I do recognize that his rookie season has the chance to be lackluster. That’s why this piece is a dynasty recommendation and not one for redraft leagues.

We already know about top target Josh Gordon almost certainly being gone for 2014. That alone could be considered damning, but there are other reasons.

For one, it’s not a given that Manziel wins the job before the start of the season. Former Tom Brady understudy Brian Hoyer showed he was capable of being a serviceable player when he led the Browns to 2 wins in 2 full starts last year before tearing his ACL early in a third win. There’s no question Manziel is the more talented player and should ultimately end up making starts in 2014, but that’s no guarantee he’s under center on opening day. Although some in the media aren’t buying it, everything the Browns have said publicly so far hints towards them wanted to bring Manziel along slowly.

If and when Manziel does get on the field as a rookie, the Browns may continue to be cautious with him. In RG3’s rookie year, with the same offensive coordinator now on the Browns, the Redskins attempted the third-fewest passes in the NFL. Since the Browns passed more than any other team last year, I don’t think they’re going to do a complete 180, but they’ve clearly begun the transition into more of a running team with the recent investments they’ve made at running back and on the offensive line.

With a light passing load, Manziel could still be somewhat useful in fantasy assuming his team doesn’t discourage his scrambling early on, but the same level of upside won’t be there until at least 2015. RG3 was a fantasy monster his rookie season with the same restrictions Manziel may face, however Griffin was absurdly efficient as a passer – he set the rookie passer rating record – and he had one of the all-time great rushing seasons by a QB with 815 yards and 7 rushing touchdowns. Neither of those things are probably realistic goals for Manziel.

I don’t rule out Manziel being a player worth starting at some point as a rookie, but I think the most likely scenario is he begins his ascent to fantasy stardom in year 2 when he has more experience, gets Gordon back, and the team puts a little more on his plate. If you have an aging QB that could file his retirement papers any year now, or if you just have a middle of the pack starter, I would seriously consider drafting Manziel with a premium pick in dynasty leagues. You could also take a more risky approach and let someone else take Manziel and then attempt to trade for him on the cheap if he has a slow start as a rookie.

Will Johnny Manziel emerge as a fantasy stud?

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  • diablox440

    dude is a phenom for sure he already has like a million twitter followers and hasn’t even played yet. but i do think he will be overrated not underrated. great article though good read

  • coltsrockjcr

    Manziel is a punk! When is the last time a player like that was good? You don’t see Andrew Luck out drinking and being stupid..