Counterpoint: Passing on Johnny Manziel in pursuit of Pro Bowl talent

Manziel texans
Manziel texans

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(Photo illustration by Kara Wahlgren)

Quarterback is a pass-fail position. Sure, there are two or three on every team, but out of those 80-90 guys, there are 60 or 70 of them who are just around because every team needs one on the field; the others are insurance in case that one guy gets hurt. Half—and probably more—of the teams in the NFL are in the perpetual pursuit of that top-flight signal caller. Which brings us to the Cleveland Browns and Thursday night when Ray Farmer and his staff may very well select a quarterback. I’m OK with that. More than OK. In fact, they MUST take one by halfway through Day 2. What I don’t want them to do, however, is sacrifice their draft board and pass up a Pro Bowl talent in the never-ending pursuit of a franchise player under center.

I’ll reference a couple of things from Craig’s interesting take on Johnny Football being the “safest” pick at No. 4. One of Craig’s go-to arguments in his case for drafting Manziel is how drafting Joe Thomas, an All-Pro and potential future Hall of Fame offensive tackle, in the top five has led to little in the way of wins. The Browns could be staring down that exact same scenario if Auburn tackle Greg Robinson remains on the board when the fourth-overall selection is on the clock.

I disagree with the premise of Craig’s argument. I’d argue that selecting an offensive lineman that high, having him sit on your line for a decade, and never having to worry about that one of 22 starting positions is a huge benefit. The argument Craig seems to be making here (and he’s certainly not alone) is that no other starting position effectively matters until you have that franchise quarterback. That’s not how team building works. Sure, there’s the risk that you chew through your core in the pursuit of a franchise quarterback. There’s also the possibility that you take these seven picks in the first four rounds and add some young, cheap, dynamic talent to a core of Pro Bowlers—say, Joe Haden, Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, Joe Thomas, and Alex Mack—and start to fill out two complete sides of the ball. Then, with the rest of the car built, you drop the engine into a team that’s ready to hit the ground running.

Of course, you’re not going to go deep into the playoffs without a good quarterback, but is this team going deep into the playoffs next year? Build a complete team by taking the best players available that fit your system and assess your deficiencies all while picking players that have the best chance of succeeding. Then, perhaps we get a scenario where you can drop a Roethlisberger or Russell Wilson into a complete team and put them in a situation to succeed very early in their career. While it’s true that you don’t sign or trade for franchise quarterbacks, you also rarely, if ever, can trade for top flight wideouts, elite left tackles, shutdown corners, or dynamic pass rushers.

QUOTEMany of you who I’ve chatted with on Twitter are correct in saying that a good quarterback is worth a No. 1 selection in all cases. It’s also equally fair to say any of those other 60-70 J.A.G.s1 are not worth any more than a fourth-round pick at best. What lies in between then? That’s the sliding probability scale of confidence that, in a organization’s assessment, this quarterback can become a top-tier quarterback. A mid-ranked quarterback can be acquired via trade or free agency2 . There is a certain formula or opportunity cost for each team that is unique. Would I take Johnny Manziel if the team thought he had a 75% chance of becoming a top-tier quarterback over a wide reciever or offensive tackle that they thought was a sure-fire or can’t miss (90-95% chance)? Yes, I probably would, because quarterback is at least that much more important. Now, do I make the same call if the team is less than 50% sure Manziel can become that guy? Do I make that pick if they’re doing it only because he’s the top QB on their board in a weaker QB draft? No, I certainly do not.

At that point, I slide down to the next tier of Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, or the AJ McCarron tier and take my pick of those guys later on the board. I’m admittedly a Bridgewater fan, especially if he can be had with the 26th pick. The Browns need a quarterback, but if they’re not confident enough that one at No. 4 is the quarterback, they should wait part of a round or more. Craig said it himself, you can’t overvalue quarterbacks, but you can overdraft them. He pointed out several scenarios where teams blew up their draft boards and inflated the QB talent artificially and inexplicably select the Ponder, Locker,and Gabbert types in the top 10.

One prime example is an aggregate big board of prospects that Joe Lull (@LullOnSports) shared on Twitter a few days back. Notice the huge dropoff between the fifth- and sixth-best prospects (Matthews at 4.62 and Evans at 8.54). The trio of highly touted quarterbacks fall 11th (Bridgewater), 14th (Bortles), and 15th (Manziel). That is enough of a gap for me to pass on a QB at No. 4.

lullbigboard

Click to enlarge, you.

I know Manziel has eye-popping elusiveness, charisma by the boat loads, and he accomplished all of his accolades in the best football conference outside of the NFL. Those factors are not lost on me. But, his bust factor due to his size, injury concerns due to his running frequency, and inexperience taking snaps under center cannot be overlooked when evaluating the total package. In college, you can survive with some unconventional aspects of your game, but in the NFL, those largely get exploited. I’m not saying that will necessarily be the case with Johnny Manziel, but it is a concern of mine.

I’m all for paying the price it takes to get a quarterback. But, in this draft, with these prospects, up against the elite talent and deep nature of this particular draft the price doesn’t warrant it. I get stomach pains just thinking about being horns-waggled into trading up for Manziel out of pure fear and speculation. It’s Trent Richardson all over again, being fooled by the Vikings into giving up a precious draft pick instead of calling their bluff. It’s a little easier to stomach such a move if moving up from 26th pick given that the price drops. Still, the Browns punted last year’s draft. Let’s hope that punting effort has not gone in vain.

We finally have a well-respected front office, and they have a real chance to display their knowledge and flex their muscles with these seven early-round picks. How many times has a Cleveland team been the first team to pick after the elite talent is gone3? There are plenty of draft authorities who talk about the quartet of Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Khalil Mack, and Sammy Watkins as being far and above the rest of the board. The Browns have the fourth pick, so if they don’t like who’s left at that point, they should partner with someone who buys into that drop-off.

Imagine, if you will, a young quarterback walking in with Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, and either Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins to throw to on Sundays. Or, Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, and Greg Robinson anchoring the best offensive line in the league. It all comes down to the front office’s assessment and their big board. If Johnny Manziel (or Teddy Bridgewater or Blake Bortles) is one of their top-rated players, then by all means take them. But, if it’s the outside pressure from the fans to pick the media darling and fear of passing on the enigma driving the decision, then you simply have to take one of the other great options at your fingertips. Above all, I hope the Browns come out looking like one of the smartest teams in the room. We’ve spent far too much time on the other end of that spectrum.

  1. Just a guy. []
  2. See Smith, Alex []
  3. Think Cavs the last few years []
  • dwhit110

    This is more or less the argument I made after we took Weeden 2 years ago. I still believe in it. Bravo, Kirk.

  • saggy

    absolutely not.

  • Hopwin

    If we drafted 2 pro-bowlers this would be a legendary draft. So let’s do a thought exercise, you can add any two members of last years pro-bowl to the roster (except a quarterback). Now project how many wins they add to the roster. Treat it like baseball, what is their WAR?

  • maxfnmloans

    We didn’t draft a QB in 2004, because we signed Jeff Garcia
    We didn’t draft a QB in 2005 because we were convinced Dilfer could be a game manager
    We didn’t draft a QB in ’06 because we thought Charlie Frye (?!?!) might be the guy
    We didn’t draft a QB in ’08 (or trade DA at max value) because we were sold on a guy who had 10 good starts, then 4 awful ones
    We didn’t draft a QB in ’09 because hey DA stunk, lets see if he gets better
    2010, 2011 the semi-retired QB Guru kept giving us chicken poop to make chicken salad (Delhomme, McCoy, Wallace)
    2012 Weeden was a panic choice because Randy told them they BETTER fix the QB situation. They painted themselves into a corner the two years prior.

    I don’t care what the “experts” say. They are wrong more often than they are right. A wise man once said “LOOK AT THE GAME TAPE”. There’s a a QB out there who can put the team on their back when need be, be a game manager when the time calls for it, and has the mental capacity to make good decisions, read defenses, etc. (See:Bridgewater, Teddy)

    I am totally not interested in “value”. We screw around worrying about “value” and we’re going to miss out on good players because we weren’t in the right “slot” to take them. I am so tired of missing good players because they were “slotted” 10-12 spots below where we were picking. The reality is, one third or more of these guys wont slot as 6th rounders after their rookie seasons, so who cares if you pick a guy at 4 or 26 if he can play?

    It really seems like there’s still some residual Tim Couch bust dust in this fanbase. Sometimes I feel like people are still scared to take a QB high because Couch didn’t work out. Funny thing is, hes the best QB we have had since 1999, and if he were drafted as a rookie on to this team, I think he’d be a top 15 QB.

    And in this version of the NFL, it is better to have the 15th best QB than it is to have the best LT. Fortunately, we already have the best LT fwiw

  • Hopwin

    Will you marry me?

  • scripty

    People need to watch some of these teams with weak LTs and watch how much disruption there is and how more often their QBs suffer violent hits. Joe is great and even he surrenders some presssures and sacks.

  • scripty

    I think there’d only be 1 star brightened if he was a rookie captain, possible graphic fail.

  • scripty

    You can win a poker hand with a pair of pocket 7s but I’ll take my chance with a pair of Kings or something more highly rated from the start.

  • mgbode

    it so did. that is not the response of someone who cracked. you are welcome.

  • mgbode

    exactly. that is why if you don’t have the QB rated high, you go with the higher rated player. good analogy.

  • Bob

    One point you didn’t address that was mentioned in Craig’s article: Johnny Q. Football ran significantly more in his first season compared to his second: the opposite of RG3. Although you can’t discern a trend from a single example (comparing ’12 and ’13 seasons), this does seem to imply he is working to become a traditional QB which will somewhat lessen the injury risk factor (and take away one of the biggest red flags).

    I also agree, we shouldn’t pass on an elite player for a good player in a position of need, and worst case scenario, we can force the issue next year in a lesser draft with fewer picks on any QB not named Winston. (For the record, I think Manziel will be a successful franchise QB, however the research of the 32 FO’s is much more in-depth than my own.)

  • Toddyus

    This is my concern about Manziel vs. the NFL…

    http://static.fjcdn.com/gifs/Indiana_53e1c0_130347.gif

  • WFNY_DP

    Well, to play Devil’s Advocate, please list all the QBs at our draft spots in those years you’d have taken. For example:

    In 2004, we traded to take Kellen Winslow, who became a Pro Bowler for us (eventually). Two QBs were already gone (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers), and one questionable (at the time) guy was there in Ben Roethlisberger. But, Winslow ended up a Pro Bowler within three years.
    In 2005, we didn’t draft a QB because the only two QBs were Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers, Smith was gone, and 21 teams all thought Rodgers was overrated (not to mention it took him four years to get “good”).
    In 2006, we didn’t draft a QB because when we picked, the three “good” QBs (Young, Leinart, Cutler) were gone. The next QB taken was KELLEN CLEMENS at pick 49.
    In 2007, we DID draft a 1st round QB. He was TERRIBLE. He hasn’t played an NFL snap since 2012.
    In 2008, we traded essentially our entire draft to build on a 10-6 team that had no defense and an all-world offense in 2007.
    In 2009, we passed on Mark Sanchez and traded down. We drafted a Pro Bowl center instead. Other 1st round QBs passed on: Josh Freeman. Other QBs drafted prior to round 4: Pat White.
    In 2010, Sam Bradford went #1. We drafted Pro Bowler Joe Haden at 6. Next QB after Bradford? Tim Tebow at #25. After that? Jimmy Claussen at 48. After that? Colt McCoy.
    In 2011, we traded down (Phil Taylor) and thus passed on Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder. Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick went in the 2nd round.
    In 2012, we messed up. Whiffed on trading for RGIII for whatever reason, and took Weeden in the 1st round. We skipped over Ryan Tannehill. Next QB after Weeden was Brock Osweiler.
    In 2013, the first QB off the board was at pick 16 (EJ Manuel). Next up? Geno Smith, at 39.

    My point here is to show that, while your rant is clever, it’s also revisionist history. Please tell me who you’d have drafted in hindsight. Big Ben? Rodgers? Kaepernick? Maybe in hindsight, but all had question marks at the time of selection, and only one was selected in the top 15 of the first round, indicating that they didn’t grade out as worthy of high picks across the league.

    I think it’s also fair to note that we drafted four Pro Bowlers in the first round in that stretch (Winslow, ’04; Thomas, ’07; Mack, ’09; and Haden, ’10), and I think Taylor is a borderline Pro Bowler IMHO. Not to mention TJ Ward and Josh Gordon, who were Pro Bowlers selected with high second round picks.

    This, I believe, is Kirk’s premise: you don’t reach for a QB high just because you need a QB if there’s better talent available.

  • WFNY_DP

    “We should use our first pick every year to draft the best available quarterback until we find a franchise guy.”

    Thank God you don’t run the Browns. This might be the most horrible strategy I’ve ever heard of. It completely ignores our position in the draft and the grades of the players. If we did what you suggested, we’d have the following:

    Kellen Clemens (’06)
    Brady Quinn and NO Joe Thomas (’07)
    no idea (’08); we traded our entire top of the draft for defense
    Mark Sanchez and NO Alex Mack (’09)
    Tim Tebow or Jimmy Claussen and NO Joe Haden (’10)
    Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, or Christian Ponder and NO Phil Taylor (’11)

    Ryan Tannehill, no TRich and Weeden (’12), alright, I’ll give you that one
    EJ Manuel or Geno Smith and no Barkevious Mingo (’13)

    But, yeah, that team loaded with crappy QBs and devoid of basically all of our Pro Bowlers would be better, because at least we’d be trying to get the QB right!

  • Hopwin

    Because following your strategy has made us perennial contenders?

  • Hopwin

    Wheee

  • WFNY_DP

    So, your argument is that, since we haven’t had success we should do something that would clearly be way more stupid?

  • WFNYKirk

    That was lovely. You should write here.

  • Hopwin

    Got tipsy at the ballgame. Did I respond? If not here is the answer, following your strategy has led to an average of 4.25 wins per season over 15 seasons. Suck it! #rolltribe

  • Hopwin

    Also take a +1 to your post

  • mgbode

    why do we care who the Cowboys draft?

  • maxfnmloans

    So if someone had drafted Kaepernick or Foles in the first round, would that have been a reach, knowing what we know now? The whole point is nobody knows and we should quit trying to convince ourselves that what we have is good enough when history tells us time and again that things never work out as you plan. people get hurt, pro bowlers ride their motorcycles into lamp posts, screws fall out, the world is an imperfect place. All I’m saying is is there’s a guy available in this draft at #4 who they think can be better than Brian Hoyer, they should draft him, and not screw around worrying about “value”.

    In 9 months when no one remembers who was projected to go in what round of whoever’s mock draft, we are going to know who can play in the NFL and who can’t and all of these projections aren’t going to mean a thing.

    Also, I wasn’t responding to Kirk but, um, like, whatever man