One of the draft mantras heard in and around Cleveland is the never-ending rhetoric regarcing “safe” picks. For some, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is a safe pick. For others it’s one of the top offensive tackles. Almost nobody considers any of the quarterbacks safe picks and while I totally understand why, it’s wrong.
Pick your favorite cliché. Boom or bust, hit or miss. Manning or Leaf, McNabb or Couch. In that frame of reference, it would appear that quarterbacks aren’t safe picks. How about this frame of reference though? The Cleveland Browns’ Opening Day starters since 1999 are Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Jake Delhomme, Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden.1 So tell me again how safe picks have worked out for filling the team’s most important need. That’s why I’m here to tell you that there’s no “safer” pick for the Browns this year than a quarterback at No. 4, and that quarterback is Johnny Manziel.
I love Terry Pluto, but I disagree with his column from Monday. He stated that the Browns should “run away” from Manziel due to his propensity to run the football. The idea is that running the ball in the NFL is a surefire way to get a quarterback hurt. While I agree that Johnny Manziel’s running is a risk factor for his transition to the NFL, let’s look at the stats a bit.
In his case, Pluto points out that in two years at Texas A&M, Johnny Manziel had 343 carries. In RG3’s final two years at Baylor he had 328 carries. So this means Johnny Manziel is even more likely to run than RG3? Not so fast.
Johnny Manziel did run the ball 343 times in his college career, but let’s look at the trend. In his Heisman-winning season, Manziel ran the ball 201 times for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns. In 2013, Manziel ran 142 times for 752 yards and only nine touchdowns. Robert Griffin III is just the opposite. In his final two years, he did run the ball 328 times, but he was trending in the wrong direction. He had 149 rushes in 2010 and 179 in 2011.
For reference, Robert Griffin III had 120 rushes in his rookie season over 15 games with Washington under the Shanahans. If the Browns were to draft Johnny Manziel and he finds his way to the field in his rookie season, I’d hate to see him rushing anywhere near that much. But there’s no reason to think based on the way Johnny Manziel trended the last two years that he isn’t naturally moving toward a more traditional quarterback role anyway, or at least more-so than RG3 was.
The evidence doesn’t stop there either. On the passing side of the ledger, consider that Manziel threw 11 more touchdowns (37 total) than he did in that previous year. In a column recently penned by ESPN’s Stats and Info department, we get to dig a bit deeper in Manziel the Passer.
One of the most underrated parts of Manziel’s game is his accuracy from the pocket. He led all AQ players this season with a 73.5 completion percentage from inside the pocket. He completed at least 65 percent of such passes in every game during his sophomore season except for the Aggies’ loss to LSU.
Manziel was not just completing short throws as a result of Texas A&M’s spread offense. One out of every four passes he attempted from the pocket traveled at least 15 yards. On such throws, Manziel completed an SEC-high 54.9 percent, more than 15 percentage points higher than the AQ average (39.5 percent).
What you see here is a marked difference in a player moving away from that rushing style. It seems that given the right coaching and the right system, there’s little doubt that trend couldn’t or wouldn’t continue for Manziel.
The point here isn’t even totally about Johnny Manziel. I’ve made no secret of the fact that he’s my choice. I think his off-the-field exploits have people overthinking things. Manziel played at the highest level, against the toughest competition and has the most impressive game tape of any of the other QB draft prospects as a result.2 Is he a little bit small? Sure. Again, try not to overthink this stuff. Big, statuesque guys with rocket arms might fit some archetype of what a quarterback should be, but we’re not casting Bo Callahan. We’re trying to field a team that will finally win more games than it loses and that’s much easier to do with a star at quarterback.
And that’s why the safest pick on Thursday goes against the grain of what people think a safe pick should be. The safest pick isn’t about finding the guy who can give you the most starts, guaranteed at just any position on the field. It’s about picking the guy who can make the biggest impact for the Cleveland Browns where they need it most. It isn’t about finding the safest pick in the little vacuum of draft night; this is about making the safest pick for the Cleveland Browns franchise as a whole. As much as I’m rooting for Brian Hoyer, I just don’t see how the “safe pick” is going into this season with Hoyer, Vince Young, Tyler Thigpen and Alex Tanney. Not when they could presumably have a chance to pick Johnny Manziel.