NFL Draft Profiles — Johnny Manziel
The question in many fantasy circles: Is Johnny Manziel a viable QB1 option as soon as his rookie year?
Recently, I did some research and penned an article on how college quarterbacks’ rushing numbers can be translated to the NFL. The full piece is here, but the main conclusion I drew from my research is that, over the last few years, there’s a correlation between rushing attempts in a quarterback’s final collegiate season and said quarterback’s rookie NFL season.
Over the last three seasons of data, quarterbacks carry over about 95% of their rushing attempts in their final college year to their first NFL season.
When removing sacks from the rushing attempt total, Manziel carried the ball 125 times for the Aggies in 2013 and that was a “down” year in terms of rushing attempts for the young quarterback. In fact, in 2012, Manziel put up 179 carries as he lit the SEC on fire and took home the Heisman Trophy.
Only three NFL quarterbacks broke 90 carries last season and all three of them (Cam Newton with 111, Russell Wilson with 96 and Colin Kaepernick with 92) happened to finish in the top 10 of ESPN’s Standard Fantasy Scoring for quarterbacks.
If the data holds up and Manziel sees over 95% of his college rushing attempts carry over to the NFL, he could be looking at 120 carries in 2014.
While it might be a stretch to project 120 carries for a rookie, don’t be surprised if Manziel ends up breaking 100.
Manziel averaged a touchdown every 10.1 rushing attempts during his Texas A&M career (compared to every 13.9 carries during 2013), so if he gets 100 carries, it’s reasonable to assume he could tally between 7 and 10 touchdowns as a rookie.
Also, considering the top 10 quarterbacks in rushing attempts averaged over a combined 5.3 yards per carry, it’s reasonable to think Manziel could add 500 yards on the ground to whatever passing totals he manages.
At that juncture, with over 90 points already accounted for on the ground, he’ll simply need to match Chad Henne (3,241 yards, 13 TD’s, 14 INT’s) or Mike Glennon’s (2,608 yards, 19 TD’s, 9 INT’s) passing totals to catapult himself into the top 10 quarterbacks. For a quarterback with Manziel’s talent level, such a task should be easy enough.
In terms of the signal caller’s skill set, Manziel is the best playmaker in this year’s draft class. While some quarterbacks in this class, like Teddy Bridgewater and A.J. McCarron, dominate before the snap with audibles and protection checks, Manziel’s best work is done after the snap. He is ahead of his years when it comes to reading a defense during the play and he has the wherewithal to escape the pocket and avoid the rush if his first and second reads don’t open up.
I’d compare him to Robert Griffin III in terms of athletic ability and flair for making plays, but his cerebral post-snap capabilities are comparable to those of Tom Brady. Manziel may not be the best when it comes to calling audibles at the line, but he sees holes in opposing defenses before they exist. Such anticipatory skills helped him tear apart Alabama and Auburn’s vaunted defenses.
That said, Manziel won’t be able to make the same plays in the NFL that he was accustomed to making in college. He’s not as accurate of a thrower on the run as one might expect, as his passes tend to sail when he’s on the move. Even when he’s in the pocket, Manziel has a tendency to throw off balance and miss targets from time to time.
Despite his deficiencies, the former Aggie standout will make a significant impact as early as his rookie season. During your fantasy draft this year, keep an eye on Manziel. All signs point to the signal caller putting up big-time numbers in 2014.
To answer the question of whether or not he’s QB1 material, we’ll have to see what team drafts him, but it’s more than likely he ends up a viable starter in both 10- and 12-team formats.