Is Johnny Manziel really one of the worst backup quarterbacks in the NFL?
By Thomas Moore
May 26, 2015; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) during organized team activities at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
If there is any fanbase in the NFL that is intimately familiar with backup quarterbacks, it is those of the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns have not had a quarterback make 16 starts in a season since Tim Couch in 2001 – and he was the first one to do it since Bernie Kosar in 1991.
The problem is not confined to Cleveland, or course, as 54 different quarterbacks started games in 2014, but with the Browns being at the forefront of the multiple-quarterback movement, it does on added importance around these parts.
Related: Browns 2015 Position Preview – Quarterbacks
Which brings us to second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel.
With NFL teams not opening training camps for a few more days it is the season for rankings and making lists, and NFL.com’s Marc Sessler joined in the fun by ranking the backup quarterbacks for each NFL team.
Sessler ranked the quarterbacks based on the order he would pick them to start a game, with playing experience and each team’s situation also being a factor.
Manziel comes in at No. 31, just one spot ahead of San Francisco quarterback Blaine Gabbert with Sessler writing that:
"Manziel was a disappointment on and off the field as a rookie. He deserves credit for handling his issues and showing better preparation heading into Year 2. The bigger concern was seeing defensive linemen chase him down with ease. While Russell Wilson and Drew Brees play big, Manziel looked small and out of place on the field. That said, I’m not ready to give up on Johnny after seven quarters."
By their very nature, rankings like this one are highly subjective. But it is hard to imagine that very many NFL offensive coordinators would willingly pick Austin Davis, Scott Tolzien, T.J. Yates, Jimmy Clausen or Dan Orvlosky over Manziel. After all, none of them are players who you simply had to watch when they took the field in college.
We know no one in Cleveland (at least we hope) would take Derek Anderson, Brandon Weeden, Luke McCown or Bruce Gradkowski, former Browns quarterbacks who are on the list, over Manziel. And depending on how things shake out in Houston and Washington, Brian Hoyer and Colt McCoy may join the list, making Cleveland the true cradle of backup quarterbacks. (Think about that for a moment, Browns fans.)
We understand that by writing that we would not take those quarterbacks we are also being subjective. But it is also based on the perceived potential of these quarterbacks, along with the fact that we’ve seen what many of them can do and we want no part of them on the Browns.
Related: Opinions Plentiful When it Comes to Johnny Manziel
While we still have major doubts that Manziel can be an NFL quarterback, the fact is he is a talented player. He wouldn’t have put up the numbers he did at Texas A&M, especially playing in the SEC, if there wasn’t something there. The other players we mentioned certainly never lit up the field on Saturday afternoons the way that Manziel did while in College Station, Texas.
But that doesn’t mean anything at the NFL level, other than that Manziel will get plenty of opportunities to show he is an NFL quarterback. While the seven quarters he played in 2014 were some of the worst quarterbacking in franchise history, and we certainly wish he hadn’t taken what amounted to a voluntary redshirt year in 2014, pretty much everything that Manziel has done since the season ended has been for the better.
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From publicly admitting that he needs to treat the NFL like a job, to voluntarily entering a 10-week rehab program to battle his personal demons, to pretty much keeping his name out of the headlines (the one incident at the Byron Nelson Classic notwithstanding), Manziel has done what he can to resurrect his career.
But that has all been off-the-field stuff, and the true test will begin at the end of the month when training camp begins, continuing through the preseason friendlies and the upcoming season. If he can work his way through all that with no problems, and start having his performance and attitude match his potential, then the Browns may have something to work with.
If Manziel can pull that off, he may find himself on a much more positive preseason ranking list come the 2016 season.