Johnny Manziel looks like an NFL starter — even if it’s not in Cleveland

Cleveland QB Johnny Manziel has earned two positive grades in a row, and is showing signs he could be an NFL starter after all.

| 12 months ago
(AP Photo/Frank Victores)

(AP Photo/Frank Victores)

Johnny Manziel looks like an NFL starter — even if it’s not in Cleveland


Johnny Manziel has three more games worth of time in the shop window. Like a store display designed to lure in customers before the holidays, his time is limited, but it could secure him a buyer.

Maybe his career in Cleveland can be rescued over that time, too, but it seems more likely that Manziel’s best bet is putting enough impressive play on tape that a quarterback-needy team comes calling, intrigued by his upside and prepared to bite given the dearth of other options around.

The bottom line is that Manziel has at least shown something for the Browns this season, in a league where far too many quarterbacks see the field who don’t show anything. He has produced positive grades in his last two starts, and in pretty much every game he has played this year he has made a couple of big plays — even if they haven’t always outweighed the bad.

Johnny Football was never likely to be a prototypical NFL passer, but what always intrigued teams was the X-factor he brought to the game that few others could. The way Brett Favre would always make occasional “wow” plays, often before making other “oh, wow” bad plays, Manziel has the ability to improvise and succeed when the script runs out of instructions.

This season, while most quarterbacks see their passer rating under pressure drop by over 30 points, Manziel’s only slips from 91.9 to 84.2, and it actually went up against the 49ers — to 116.7 — when they were able to apply heat. He still makes plenty of poor plays when pressured, and his overall grade is far worse, but the encouraging part is actually how he has played when kept clean.

This is usually the starting point for viability in the NFL, and Manziel this season has completed 68 percent of his passes from a clean pocket with a positive PFF grade on those plays. Compare that to the Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick, for example – a similar maverick style of player – and he comes out looking very favorable. Fitzpatrick has a negative PFF grade from a clean picket and has completed only 63.6 percent of his passes, with a lower yards-per-attempt figure and a slightly higher passer rating (93.7). Fitzpatrick has the Jets at 8-5 and firmly in the playoff hunt, and is not a terrible starter at the position.

We are only talking about plays here in which both players were kept clean in the pocket, but that is the first step, and the perceived weakness of Manziel as a prospect. Could he operate as a pocket passer from within the pocket without having to break it down and improvise? So far the answer has been a resounding yes, and at least on the field he has earned the chance to develop the other aspects of his game.

Of course, Manziel brings off-field baggage with him, and it’s that baggage that has tested the patience of the Browns and meant he has only been turned to as an option of last resort. But Manziel is a talented player, and even if the Browns are done with him, it makes sense for them to keep him in the shop window, because he might show enough over the final three games of the season for another team to come calling and offer the team something in a trade.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • shaunhan murray

    I like Johnny but the off field stuff is a little ridiculous…what team should he go to? Anyone any ideas?

    • Brandon

      I really wanted the chiefs to nab him but Cleveland moved up before us to draft him. He would of been able to learn behind Alex Smith and wouldn’t have had to face media scrutiny because no one pays attention to KC. Plus we all know how Reid is with Qb’s he can make anyone look good. Ie Kolb and Foles.

      • KAO

        Foles played 6 rookie games with Reid and while he wasnt awful for a rookie given all the injuries around him, he never looked good. Same with Kolb occasional decent throws but overall just no more than a backup.

        • Brandon

          Had either of those two continued their careers with Reid both would of gradually gotten better. Reid obviously help Kolb’s trade value when it was really him as a coach that made him look decent. Reid took a fresh out of jail Vick and went straight to the playoffs with him. Like I said Reid makes his QB’s look better.

          • Nick

            Yah I think KAO is fogetting how terrible some of those guys could have been without Reid. Kolb looked decent under him at times instead of the awful QB he turned out to be.

      • shaunhan murray

        I dont think he had a part in foles but yeah that seems like a good fit

    • JGaLaXY

      After Rams fire Fisher, maybe the Rams or I think he can go to Dallas and be back-up to Romo until he breaks or injures another body part as he does EVERY year. 49ers just because lol

      • shaunhan murray

        Johnny in LA or Dallas…fun

    • crosseyedlemon

      How about Johnny and Tim Tebow starting up their own league with Donald Trump as commissioner.

    • Cant FixStupid

      Going out and having fun while he’s young is ridiculous?? Cause really, that’s all he’s done off the field. And this year he’s done a great job not mixing the football career and the partying, and it’s showing on the field.

      • shaunhan murray

        IDK I defend Johnny but the drinking after he talked about how he was no longer addicted to achol and the lieing to the browns…I want him to do well but its a worry.

  • qb

    Manziel has been stupid when it comes to publicity off the field, not necessarily by what he has done, but the manner in which he has blatantly ignored the media circus and unfair scrutiny he attracts. He simply must become much smarter and less defiant ,or the media will crucify him with these ridiculous “gotcha” articles. But more importantly he needs to play somewhere with a head coach and staff who are competent and able to manage athletes at the pro level and utilize talent, rather than forcing players to fit preconceived, ” one size fits all ” parameters. Pettine has proven to be inadequate for establishing any semblance if continuity.

  • Joe Doe

    “The way Brett Favre would always make occasional “wow” plays, often before making other “oh, wow” bad plays.” Absolutely perfect description of Favre’s career. Thank you, Sam