As most predicted, Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer turned out to be just a guy. He’s a perfectly serviceable NFL quarterback, but he has his limitations. Now, it’s Manziel time in Cleveland. The city and the media are ecstatic, yet no one is asking the most important question: What evidence exists to indicate that Johnny Manziel will be a successful NFL quarterback?
Let’s compare Manziel to quarterbacks with similar styles. Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Michael Vick, Vince Young, and even Tim Tebow are the best examples of quarterbacks who play the position like Manziel does. None of them are great from the pocket. All of them rely too much on their athletic ability. All of them are inconsistent quarterbacks as a result.
The trend among all these quarterbacks is that when the ability to use their legs is taken away (either by game plan or injury), they fail to play the position at a high level. Cam Newton, for instance, has battled ankle and rib injuries of late because of the pounding he’s taken. He is not nearly as dynamic a runner this year (just his 4th season) as in years past. He has shown no ability to consistently succeed from the pocket, and the Panthers offense has been up and down all season as a result.
Robert Griffin III has been absolutely awful since shredding his knee in 2012. The threat of his legs opened up passing lanes throughout his rookie season. With the ability to create explosive plays on the ground now gone, he’s been forced to play from the pocket. The poor results have created plenty of unwanted drama in Washington.
Similar to Vince Young, Colin Kaepernick has shown flashes early in his career using his natural talent to succeed. However, with the ability to use his legs neutralized by defenses, he has become ineffective as a quarterback, regressing with each start. This was what happened with Vince Young as well. Ultimately, Young started just 50 games in his entire career – the equivalent of a little more than 3 full seasons. Unfortunately for the 49ers, Kaepernick appears to be trending in the same direction.
Tim Tebow couldn’t throw. We all saw how long he lasted in the NFL. Michael Vick is probably the most physically gifted out of all the above-mentioned quarterbacks. However, because of his playing style, he has battled constant injuries. He’s only completed one full season in a 12-year career. Despite his 112 starts, Vick still hasn’t learned how to play without his legs. His inconsistency always kept his teams from beating the really good defenses at playoff time.
Russell Wilson is the most controlled of these quarterbacks. He’s really an example of the best-case scenario for a team with a run-first quarterback. He slides and runs out of bounds. He avoids big hits. He is the most accurate passer in this group. However, despite having the best running game in the league, he’s been inconsistent as a passer when kept in the pocket. As controlled as he is, his style of play, even at its best, is still a random assortment of great plays. Would his play get the same notoriety it has for winning games if his defense hadn’t been the best in the league over the last 3 seasons? It’s impossible to know for sure. We won’t find out until his defense starts to fail him. Regardless of where you stand on Russell Wilson or any of the above players, one thing is certain: if you take away their ability to run, they are all mediocre quarterbacks at best.
For Cleveland, the worst thing about Manziel is that he is nowhere near as physically talented as any of the players we’ve mentioned. All of these quarterbacks are or were more explosive runners than Manziel, whether it be through their quickness or physicality or both (If you don’t believe us, go back and watch Manziel’s performance during the preseason. He was chased down by 2nd and 3rd-string defensive linemen and linebackers).
With the exception of Tim Tebow, all of these quarterbacks have stronger arms and better pocket-passing skills than Manziel. Most of them are more accurate than Johnny Football. It’s hard to say that all of them are better at reading defenses, but Manziel certainly has shown very little ability at the college level or in his limited playing time in the NFL to read and react to coverage in the passing game. He has shown no traits that translate to consistently leading an offense down the field.
There have also been no indicators that he is working his tail off to study the professional game or perfect his craft. Additionally, he is short and slight, which has to worry the Browns about his durability given his knack for throwing his body around.
The Browns will likely look to put Manziel in successful situations early on. They’ll lean on their running game and defense. They’ll use play-action. They’ll get him on the move where he’s comfortable. They’ll use elementary passing concepts and simple reads. The Browns will rely on the elements around Manziel and hope he can make some plays here and there to help win games. This is what we’ve seen with each of the quarterbacks mentioned above. We wouldn’t be surprised to see it lead to success for a short period of time for the Browns, similar to “Vinsanity” in 2006 and “Tebowmania” in 2011. In the long-term, however, this style of play will not get it done for the Browns. NFL defenses and coordinators are just too good to be beaten by gimmicks for long.
Ultimately, Johnny Manziel doesn’t possess any tangible traits that suggest he’ll be a successful NFL quarterback. His physical skills, quarterbacking IQ, and reckless style of play are not indicators of a long career with consistent success. We don’t know exactly how this is going to play out, but we do know how it’s going to end. History tells us.