Johnny Manziel or Jared Goff in 2016 for Cleveland?
Another year, another debate about the future of the Cleveland Browns’ future at quarterback. Despite our feeling that Josh McCown has not played as well, as his numbers would indicate (64.3 PFF grade, 93.3 passer rating), he’s been a reasonable stopgap for the Browns, though the 36-year old is clearly not the future of the position.
Behind McCown is former first-round pick Johnny Manziel, whose off-field drama has outweighed his 320 career snaps to this point. He’s back in line to start this weekend, though it’s more by default than anything of his own doing. While PFF is strictly focused on on-field production, Manziel’s drama has been difficult to ignore, and if anything, it does not fall in line with the behavior of other top quarterbacks around the league.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Manziel is his ability to earn the trust of coaches and teammates—a vital, even if unquantifiable, trait that quarterbacks must possess. But focusing on the field alone, what is Manziel’s upside? Even if the off-field issues get resolved, is Manziel the long-term answer in Cleveland? Let’s take a look:
Johnny Manziel to this point
We hear about “winning from the pocket” all the time ,and it’s a crucial part of NFL success. While broken plays, or plays that occur outside of “structure,” are an important complement to pocket success, they need to be seen as the potatoes, not the meat. Manziel’s game, to this point, has largely been predicated on plays outside of the structure of the offense. Consider that almost 90 percent of NFL passes take place from the pocket—Manziel’s improvisation skills must be seen as a luxury rather than the defining part of his game. To this point, improvement is needed:
|Attempts||Completions||Completion percentage||Accuracy percentage||Yards per attempt||PFF grade|
We’re barely 300 snaps into Manziel’s career, so writing him off entirely would be irresponsible, but as his skill set comes into focus, the -8.3 grade from the pocket stands out. This is very much in line with scouting reports and film analysis of Manziel coming out of college, as his plays outside of the pocket were often the best. To put this into context, Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is also outstanding outside of the pocket, usually the league’s best, but he still has the seventh-best grade from within the pocket, so it’s a good balance. We’ve yet to see this balance from Manziel.
With that said, the Browns’ options are hoping that Manziel can develop within the scheme of the offense, or perhaps move on and take advantage of another opportunity near the top of the draft. While the quarterback class is questionable at the top, the draft may be the best option.
Browns’ top option: Jared Goff
Among the many names bandied about at the top of the draft, none instill confidence as surefire No. 1 overall types. Last year, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were the consensus top two, and while Winston was coming off a subpar redshirt sophomore season, his 2013 Heisman campaign was special, and Mariota was PFF’s top-ranked quarterback by a wide margin last season at Oregon. This season’s crop is much less clear at the top, as there is no quarterback that has graded far and above the rest of the group the last two seasons, but the one who stands out the most is Cal’s Jared Goff.
There’s a lot to like about Goff, who graded at +22.2 overall (12th in nation) in 2014 before improving to +38.0 this season (5th overall, second among power-5 QBs). He started the season on fire before tapering off a bit, but he only posted two negative grades, and did so while carrying a subpar Cal team through a difficult Pac-12 schedule. Not a pure comparison of both players, but it was a similar feeling to Jay Cutler’s college days when he elevated an overmatched Vanderbilt program into a competitive SEC team.
Goff has performed well in a number of key areas, including a +6.5 grade under pressure that ranked eighth in the nation, and a +9.2 grade against the blitz that ranks fourth. There are questions about Goff’s offensive system at Cal, but given the rest of the quarterbacks around the country the last two seasons, he’s continued to stand out despite the rest of his supporting cast.
As mentioned, Goff is not a perfect prospect, and the one thing that stands out this season is his high number of turnover-worthy plays. Last year, he was the 13th-best QB at avoiding turnover-worthy plays, at 2.37 percent of dropbacks; this season, it rose to 3.98 percent, ironically the same exact percentage as first overall pick, Jameis Winston, a year ago. With Winston, we didn’t ignore this, but when analyzing his 2013 tape, we saw it was not necessarily a consistent trend with his game, and one that he’d at least shown an ability to overcome. It’s a similar situation with Goff, who may have been trying to do too much at times this season, leading to unnecessary chances. That’s not to completely absolve him—the turnover-worthy plays stand out, and he did have his issues with reading coverage along the way.
When you add it all up, Goff has shown an ability to play behind a poor offensive line and still make quality throws down the field, all while elevating the subpar talent around him. Even considering his possible drawbacks, at this point in our evaluations, he looks like the best quarterback in a group that lacks a slam dunk prospect at the top, and the Browns should be keeping a close eye on him heading into next year’s draft.