Through 12 career games, Johnny Manziel has been viewed differently than most other young quarterbacks.
Manziel is undoubtedly a polarising figure, and his off-field antics haven’t necessarily helped his reputation.
However, where other young quarterbacks are often provided the excuse of being young, inexperienced, and still learning, Manziel’s flaws and occasional missteps oddly seem to be noted more often.
Perhaps the lens through which we view Manziel is the problem. Manziel is a second-year quarterback who’s blown chances for more on-field action by taking his role lightly, such as when he was benched for partying during the Browns’ bye week just a few days after being named the starter. The move cost Manziel two games as he sat as punishment, though it’s worth noting that partying during a weekend off is hardly the worst thing an athlete can do or has done off the field.
Looked at through a different lens, Manziel can be seen as a rookie — a player who’s only played in 12 games, starting just six of them, playing in an unstable situation with a coach who isn’t totally ready to commit to him. Again, while some of that has had to do with Manziel’s own missteps or lack of preparation, he still hasn’t played a full season, much less had much of a chance as a starter.
To take it a step further, Manziel’s rookie year was basically a throw-away. He played just five games, with only one full start, which went disastrously. Some of that was Manziel’s own bad play, but some of it was also because of an offensive line that was embarrassed by the Cincinnati Bengals. He started the next game, got hurt early, and didn’t play again.
This season, Manziel was slated as the backup again. Only after Josh McCown suffered a first-quarter concussion in the season-opener did Manziel get to play. Manziel played well in Week 1, albeit in a loss, but led the Browns to a win in an efficient Week 2 performance. However, when McCown was healthy the next week, Manziel got benched, and he didn’t start again until Week 9.
Throwing away Manziel’s second career start in 2014, in which he threw just eight passes before getting injured, Manziel’s five starts have been promising, as he’s shown improvement over time:
These numbers won’t wow anybody, and the extra time Manziel has had over almost two seasons surely benefit him over actual rookies. But at the core, the Brows are 2-3 with Manziel as a starter and he has a 59% completion rate, five touchdowns, four interceptions, and an 84.1 passer rating. Perfectly fine numbers for a new quarterback.
Compare this to Jameis Winston, who in his first five starts had a 58.3% completion rate, seven touchdowns with six interceptions, and an 85.5 passer rating. Or Marcus Mariota, who had a 66.8% completion rate, nine touchdowns, five interceptions, and 94.9 average passer rating in his first five games.
Even Blake Bortles, who’s sixth in passing yards and third in passing touchdowns this season, had a rough start, going 1-4 in his first five starts with a 63% completion rate, four touchdowns, and 10 interceptions last season. The Jaguars stuck with him and now he looks every bit like a starting quarterback.
Again, Manziel is in his second year, meaning he’s had that much more time to adjust, work with coaches, other players, and study the game. Nonetheless, at 23 years old, Manziel’s finish to the 2015 season is seen as a “tryout” in the NFL, a chance to prove he belongs, while Winston, Mariota, and Bortles are are generally viewed as future franchise staples.
Manziel has been knocked in other areas. His size has been listed as a weakness, but at six feet, 210 lb. (according to his NFL page), he’s taller and heavier than Russell Wilson and the same height as Drew Brees.
Manziel’s reliance on athleticism has also been knocked, as if his speed and scrambling abilities are bad things. Instead, over a relatively short time, Manziel has improved as a pocket passer and has seemingly gotten better at extending plays to make completions.
While the 49ers’ defence Manziel faced in Week 14 wasn’t exactly like playing the Broncos, Manziel looked poised and dangerous under center. He was able to hang tough in the pocket:
He’s also dangerous in play-action when he has more time to pass and can use his legs more often:
And any quarterback who can make defenders miss tackles like this is a weapon:
Sure, Manziel slamming a Microsoft Surface on his head after an ugly interception was both funny and noteworthy, but the positive things Manziel did in getting the Browns their third win of the season far outweighed the bad.
After the game, Manziel seemed to acknowledge that he’s trying to improve upon his limited experience, telling reporters (via Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot), “I’ve only gotten to play six or seven games. I know the number is starting to climb, but for me, these mean a lot to me. I still have a lot to prove. I feel like I’m just getting started. I’m going to continue to play, continue to fight.”
Mike Pettine was half-hearted in his praise for Manziel, saying he did more good than bad, although avoiding showering Manziel with praise just one game after being benched is understandable.
Given Manziel’s age and relative inexperience, what he’s done in his limited time on the field should be seen in a positive light, much like other young quarterbacks.
The Browns remain a team in transition, but committing to a 23-year-old who has a knack for keeping plays alive while improving his overall IQ and pocket presence should be a priority. If the Browns are able to surround him with a solid offensive line and real weapons at running back and wide receiver, there’s no reason Manziel shouldn’t be viewed as an exciting young prospect in the NFL, rather than a player fighting to keep his career alive.
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