Johnny Manziel was one of the most electrifying players in college football history. Now, one of the most polarizing questions surrounding him now is whether those skills translate to the NFL. More importantly, do they make Manziel a starting fantasy QB?
Since we have no real experience from which to extract some projections, let's take a look backward at how he did in college. A popular comparison to Manziel has been Cam Newton. Take a look at the lines below, comparing Newton and Manziel's Heisman-winning campaigns.
Newton (2010 - 14 games): Passing: 185 of 280, 2854 yds, 30 TDs, 7 INTs; Rushing: 264 rushes, 1473 yds, 20 TDs
Manziel (2012 - 13 games): Passing: 295 of 434, 3706 yds, 26 TDs, 9 INTs; Rushing: 201 rushes, 1410 yds, 21 TDs
Manziel's arm was used more, and his legs got him more yards per attempt. All of this in one less game. These stats easily prove Manziel's athleticism, and Newton's NFL success show that those skills can translate well into the NFL. In fact, Newton has finished top 5 in fantasy points at QB every year since entering the league. Yes, Newton is almost half a foot taller, but athleticism and arm strength can be useful at any height. This alone, however, won't make Manziel a starting fantasy QB.
For the next point, we take a look at who Kyle Shanahan has coached recently: Robert Griffin III. Another athletic quarterback with the ability to chuck the ball deep when necessary. Griffin's rookie season saw him throw for 3,200 yards, 20 TDs and 5 INTs while rushing for another 815 yards and 7 TDs on 120 attempts. He was a top 10 QB despite missing one game.
Shanahan has the knowledge to call plays that emphasize the strength of his playmakers. Cleveland has Ben Tate to Washington's Alfred Morris, and pass-catcher Jordan Cameron to counter Jordan Reed / Fred Davis. But what receivers will Manziel throw the ball to? Who picks up slack with Josh Gordon getting kicked out of the league for an eternity?
[Lack of] Weapons
This is my limiting factor in recommending Manziel as a starting fantasy QB. Travis Benjamin is fast, but serves a better purpose as a return man. Nate Burleson is old. Miles Austin will probably pull his hamstring getting out of bed. Manziel threw the ball to a top 10 pick this year in WR Mike Evans. Evans bailed Manziel out numerous times, as you'll see in the video below. Check out the 0:40 mark where Manziel throws into a sea of opponents only to see Evans raise up and snatch the ball.
Without that stud receiver, Manziel will be running for his life. He does this as good as anybody I've ever seen, but the speed of NFL defenders will catch up to him quickly. While he will make plays and may finish top 15 this year in fantasy scoring, Manziel's consistency can be counted on for more than spot starts. Oh, I almost forgot - he plays in the AFC North. The Ravens (ILB), Bengals (DB) and Steelers (OLB) all used their first round picks on defense this year, improving positions of weakness from last year. That's six games in which I see Manziel stopped, potentially injured.
If Manziel is there in the late rounds (which he will be), or goes undrafted (even better), he'll be an interesting stash for someone, as long as they have the luxury to only use him against the Raiders, Buccaneers, Falcons or Colts. Other than that, avoid the JFF stigma and get someone you can count on for 3500+ yards through the air; not a 35 second keg stand.